Mugshot websites are equal parts shakedown and public service. One on hand, the site uses information in the public domain, and spreads it to the masses using the immediately accessible Internet as the vehicle. On the other, these sites are utilizing tactics that are tantamount to blackmail when they charge people appearing on these sits exorbitant fees to take down their photos. Should they have to suffer public humiliation because of one bad decision that led to an arrest? Lawyers and politicians are fighting back, and the results (as usual) are mixed.
The Legal Basics of Mugshot Sites
The main problem many people face when confronting a mugshot website is the legality of posting public information. Their arrest, and any information the police make available, is a matter of public record. This means anyone can access the information anytime they wish – it’s not a secret. Calling the cops and reporting the website for posting your photo won’t do any good, because that act isn’t usually illegal.
Arrests Resulting in No Criminal Charges or Convictions
Legislatures in some states across the country are attempting to pass laws that would require mugshot websites to remove photos of those who were arrested, but either never charged or convicted of any crimes, within 15 days of written notification. Failure to comply with the request within 45 days, according to reports, would generate a fine and create the presumption of defamation of character. These bills may run into problems when owners of these mugshot websites attempt to hide behind the First Amendment as protecting their right to free speech.
Do these sites have a constitutional right to profit off images in the public domain? Even images of arrests where no criminal convictions or charges resulted? Courts may have very important rulings coming soon.
Broad Laws may Reduce Rights
The broad language contained in some laws designed to curtail mugshot websites may also prevent legitimate journalists from posting arrest photos to cover breaking news stories. That could kill these proposals before they ever become laws, which only hurts the innocent who want their photos removed from the public eye. Lawmakers must craft legislation with a narrow scope to survive both Constitutional checks and to avoid language that unduly shifts the burden of proof regarding defamation lawsuits. The balance of power – indeed who can access information and disseminate it – is very important to our freedoms. As distasteful as these mugshot websites are, they may be a necessary evil for the time being.
How to Fight Back
If you’ve had a conviction expunged or sealed by the court, the mugshot website posting your photo may be in violation of a court order. Essentially, the website is posting information outside of the public realm, which could be illegal. This action may also cause damage to your good name and harm your ability to earn a living. You may be entitled to compensation for your losses from the website that wronged you. Contacting an experienced law firm can help you explore your legal options. Don’t try to approach the website on your own – let your lawyer do the heavy lifting for you.