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Is It Legal to Publish Mugshots Before a Guilty Verdict?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Florida is famous for, among other things, its expansive Sunshine Laws, some of the most permissive in the country when it comes to access to public records. That's why you get so many amazing mugshots to go with those weird Florida Man stories.

But these are just people who've been arrested. What if they didn't do it? What if they're never convicted of a crime, and their mugshots are now up on the Internet forever? How is it legal for states and police departments (and private companies) to publish mugshots before a person is declared guilty?

(Very) Public Records

Most states and the federal government have laws that provide access to non-confidential documents in the possession of a government entity like a police department. Crime statistics, police practices, arrest reports, and yes, even mugshots, normally fall under this category.

There are limits to this access. For instance, some states limit access to public records to residents of the state, and some jurisdictions can deny requests for federal mugshots. But by and large, your mugshot is a matter of public record.

Problematic Publication

But just because mugshots are a public record doesn't necessarily mean they get published. Mugshots are published in two ways: they are either published by the police department, or released to private entities upon request. And there are potential problems with either scenario, especially when it comes to publishing mugshots online.

Obviously, once something is on the Internet it's nearly impossible to get it off, and in the day and age of employers googling potential hires, this can be a problem. Police departments and officers could abuse the arrest process to harass or shame an innocent person. And, worse, private mugshot companies can publish mugshots and then charge people to take them down.

As Art Neill, executive director and attorney for New Media Rights, told Digital Trends, "If the cops can withhold mugshots, but don't, that isn't enough to make publicizing the mugshots unlawful. Morally repugnant, sure, but not wrong."

(Un)Publishing Process

It is possible to get an online mugshot removed, though the process and the price involved may vary. And if you haven't already, you should probably consider getting your criminal record expunged, if possible.

While it may be legal to publish mugshots before a guilty verdict, you do have some ways to get it unpublished. If you would like legal assistance getting a mugshot removed, you can contact an experienced criminal attorney near you.

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