June 25, 2014
Our criminal justice system is founded on the concept that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Until an individual confesses to a crime, or until a prosecutor proves beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant is guilty of the charges against him, our criminal justice system insists upon innocence. If a defendant is adjudicated not guilty, or the charges are dropped, he walks away a free man. However, thanks in part to over 80 websites, the social stigma of being arrested or charged with a crime persists.
Part of the booking process after an arrest includes having your mugshot taken. This picture becomes public record, and is available for viewing on local law enforcements’ websites. Many third party websites also host these mug shot photos, but even if an individual is found not guilty, or the charges are dropped, third party websites retain the photos, and often charge a fee for removal.
Even if an innocent person pays a website to remove his photo, there are over eighty other websites waiting to be paid, sometimes up to $400. Even though mug shots are public records, many consider the practices of these websites to be unconscionable, extortion, or blackmail. That is why starting in January of 2013, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced that the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office will no longer be posting mug shots to its website.
Some states have enacted laws that require mugshot websites to remove images of individuals that can provide proof that they were exonerated or had their records expunged. Other states have enacted laws that prohibit county sheriffs from providing mug shot photos to sites that will charge to remove them. While some mugshot websites will remove the photos of those who can prove some form of innocence free of charge, other websites may refuse to remove the photograph of paying customers if the website administrator decides the crime committed by the individual is too heinous. These websites attempt to inform the public of those that have committed crime, and the administrators selectively decide which individuals are shadowed by their mug shots.
Third Party websites often rank high on Internet searches such as Google. Even individuals whose charges were dropped can search for their names and find their mug shots. This causes problems when employers, neighbors, or even family and friends conduct an Internet search and come across these websites.
While there is pending litigation nationally against Mugshots.com and many other mugshot websites for their practices, which essentially amount to extortion, many times the strongest argument to having the mugshots removed are to seal or expunge the underlying record.
The Khonsari Law Group has handled a wide variety of criminal cases and has experience with sealing and expunging records. We have free consultations to assess whether your record can be sealed or expunged. While we know criminal records can seriously impact future economic, educational, and career opportunities, our attorneys will explain the details of your circumstances and offer professional and honest advice about your best options. If you have any questions or concerns, call our attorneys today for a free, initial consultation.