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Are Mugshot Websites Legal?

By Aaron Minc on October 28, 2015

But the call never comes. Through the grapevine you hear that the company is continuing its executive search. Later, from an inside source, you hear that the company wanted to hire you but they couldn’t get all of the necessary people to sign off on it because due diligence turned up a photo of your arrest from several years earlier.

You try to protest stating that the arrest was a mistake and no charges were actually ever filed, but it’s too late. You’ve missed out on a golden opportunity due to a mugshot posting website.


canstockphoto6689969-thumb-500x354-64194-thumb-500x354-64175How & Why Are Booking Mugshot Photos Produced?

While the exact procedures for the taking and handling of mugshot photos will vary from state to state, a photo is typically taken of the arrested individual shortly after he or she is brought to the police station or other facility. The police department will then keep this photo for their own records. Some police departments may post the mugshots on their own website as a matter of course or in the case of a high-profile arrest. But in most cases, these postings are short-lived and will not exist on the Internet for an extended period of time or indefinitely.

The problem with the posting of mugshots online exists due to a number of private, third-party websites that collect and post booking photos indefinitely. These sites use sophisticated software to scour the web for locations where arrest photos are posted or are otherwise publicly available. The software then scrapes these sites for content downloading the arrest images along with associated arrest information including the identity of the individual in the photo. The sites download this information and post them publicly indefinitely – unless you are willing to pay a fee.

The Problem with Mugshot Websites

While many of these sites claim to operate with the best intentions with a goal of improving access to information and other civic-minded purposes, the reality is of these site’s business practices calls these proclamations into question. Many of the mugshot websites will not remove mugshots even if the charges have been dismissed, dropped, or downgraded or when no charges were actually filed. Many will not remove the mugshot even if the individual is acquitted on the charges or if the conviction is expunged or sealed. However, many of these sites WILL agree to remove the arrest photo if you hand over a significant sum of cash – typically no less than $100, but often $500 or more.

It seems questionable that a number of sites would refuse to remove photos for justifiable and legitimate reasons. When sites state that they will only remove when they receive when they receive a “donation” or payment, people have a right to be suspicious.

Mugshot Websites Claim they Are Legal Due to First Amendment Protections

The websites and many free speech advocates argue that the websites are providing a public service. Others simply state that they are posting materials that are already public record and thus, how could there possibly be a legal issue with the content? Many free speech advocates believe that mugshot websites are protected by the First Amendment and this right should not be disturbed despite some site’s rather distasteful practices.

State Legislatures Address the Problems of Mugshot Websites

Recognizing the problems created by mugshot websites, a number of states have already passed legislation regulating the sites. The states and regulations include:

  • California – California S.B. 1027 prohibits websites from charging to take down mugshots posted online. Furthermore, it prohibits payment for the correction or modification of photos.
  • Colorado – Colorado’s law requires websites to remove arrest photos if the person is acquitted of the charges for which they were arrested.
  • Georgia – Georgia law requires the removal of mugshots, within 30 days of the request, when the individual was cleared of the charges they faced. Site may not charge a fee for this service.
  • New Jersey – New Jersey Law prohibits the dissemination of mugshots until the defendant has been convicted.
  • Texas – Texas law requires any business or website posting materials of this type to provide valid contact information. People are permitted to dispute the accuracy of the posting and the business has 45 days to respond. Texas law forbids the posting of arrest records of individuals who have not been convicted.

A number of other states including Missouri, Oregon, South Carolina, and Utah also have state laws addressing the publishing of mugshots while requiring payment for removal. In Connecticut, a state Supreme court holding restricts the information police can release regarding an arrest.


canstockphoto19085857-thumb-500x410-63907Need to remove a False or Misleading Posting About You on a Mugshot Website?

If a false, disparaging, or misleading posting on a mugshot website is costing you jobs and opportunities, you don’t have to continue to live with this abuse. The experienced Internet defamation removal lawyers of Meyers Roman Friedberg & Lewis, LPA guarantee the removal of the offending post or you will receive your money back. To schedule a private, no-obligation initial consultation call (216) 831-0042 or contact us online.

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