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The New Shame: Mug Shot Websites and Your Legal Rights

The Internet is bad at keeping secrets, especially when it comes at an arrest record. The ready access of information has made us an increasingly voyeuristic society. Have a dark secret? Something you wish you could forget? The Internet knows all about it, has the pictures as proof. Websites devote space to mug shots from booking photos and prison intakes. Guilt or innocence doesn’t matter for these sites, which make money off people desperate for the photos to come down.  Are these websites breaking the law by posting these images? As our criminal defense attorneys say more often than they’d like – it depends.

Matters of Public Record

Arrest records and photos released by authorities exist in the public domain, which means anyone can access them at any time. A website choosing to display these images isn’t technically breaking the law, since regulations don’t specifically disallow their posting for web browsers to view – that’s why they’re public record in the first place. Of course, these sites run into problems if they choose to editorialize the image postings, and mislead users regarding the arrests or convictions depicted in them.

Problems with Libel and the Internet

You know what they say – it’s not slander, if it’s true. If the police charged you with a crime or a jury convicted you of one, a website displaying the photo of your booking isn’t breaking the law or defaming you. They’re simply presenting information that’s already accessible to the public in a medium that’s much more immediate than a police precinct or court of clerk’s office. Embarrassment you might suffer from having relatives, friends, or coworkers see the pictures is understandable, but it doesn’t mean the website displaying the images is doing anything illegal.

Expunged Convictions and Dismissed Charges

An expunged conviction or dismissed charges shouldn’t appear on your criminal record, including a sealed juvenile arrest. A website displaying images from your arrest for dismissed charges or a conviction that was later expunged may be in violation of a judge’s order to seal the case records or destroy them altogether. If you find a website displaying images from an arrest for dismissed charges or an expunged conviction, you should contact local authorities and consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in your area. Getting those pictures down as soon as possible is of the utmost importance.

Pay to Delete Mug Shots   

Someone requiring money to get rid of information that could damage your reputation is the simplest definition of blackmail or at the very least extortion. Several people who found images of themselves on mug shot websites are suing those domains for they described as their “exploitative nature”, according to the Huffington Post. Sites allegedly offer to take down the incriminating photos for a fee – some as high as $200. It’ll be interesting to see how the lawsuits play out, partly because the mug shots pertain to dropped charges, meaning there’s no conviction or arrest record for the plaintiffs.

The laws surrounding mug shot websites and the rights of those displayed on them are constantly evolving. A site displaying pictures, along with false information about arrest records or criminal convictions could be violating the civil rights of those displayed. If you have questions, please contact our law firm immediately for more information.

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