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Websites that post arrest mugshots online have been the subject of much laughter, but only at the expense of humiliating arrestees, both innocent and guilty. Additionally, the online posting of mugshots can create personal, social, and career problems for the individuals whose mugshots get posted.
The real problem herein lies in the fact that mugshots are taken after an arrest, but before a conviction. Even if a person is found innocent, arrested on accident, or even framed by the police, their mugshot can live on in infamy. To better understand this issue, here are 5 frequently asked questions about mugshots.
1. How Do I Get My Mugshot Removed From the Internet?
Unfortunately, in most states, the laws relating to getting your mugshot removed are not in your favor. Generally, the photographs are coming from public agencies and, under most state laws, they are part of the public record. There is very little legal basis for you to premise a request to the court to order the take down of the photo.
While some states do prohibit the posting of a mugshot on a website that will charge a fee to remove the photo, sites are able to get around this by not charging a fee to remove the photo. Also, be advised that there are different rules that govern when dealing with a mugshot from a federal, rather than a state, agency.
2. How Is Posting Mugshots Online Legal?
The First Amendment provides for the right to a free press along with the right to free speech. As such, there is a compelling argument that the posting of a mugshot is a form of journalism and benefits the public. Additionally, as arrest records are public, mugshots frequently are considered part of those records, thereby making the photo newsworthy.
3. Is it Legal for a Mugshot Website to Charge a Fee to Remove My Picture?
The answer to this question depends on which state you live in. Georgia is currently the only state that prohibits the posting of mugshots online, with an exception for legitimate journalism. Illinois, Wyoming, Colorado, Oregon, Texas and Utah all have laws prohibiting the posting of a mugshot on a website that charges a fee for the removal, though the exact language each state uses is slightly different.
4. Isn't This Cruel and Unusual Punishment?
Somehow, no. While the act of posting a person's mugshot may expose that person to ridicule, humiliation, denial of career opportunities, housing, and societal scorn, a Federal Court rejected this challenge in 2013. The Federal District Court in Florida actually said the following:
"Although some may regard Maricopa County's practice of holding a 'mugshot of the day' contest to be tasteless and inappropriate, it is not cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment."
5. Do I Have to Pay Every Single Different Mugshot Site?
If your mugshot made it to one site, it is highly likely that it made it onto several others. While some sites may allow you to request the photo be taken down, either for free or for a nominal or substantial fee, other sites will flatly refuse any takedown requests. Unfortunately, each site will likely require you contact them individually, and pay their individual fees to get your photo removed. Be warned however that there are numerous sites that publish these photos, so that this may end up feeling like a never ending game of whack-a-mole.
Lastly, be very cautious of services that offer to take your mugshot down from all websites, as they may not be able to live up to the promise. If you are going to hire one of those services, read the fine print carefully as these services can be rather costly.