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You probably know that over the last decade, many for-profit websites in the US, including California, have been created to publish arrest records, including booking photos — commonly known as “mugshots.”
Did you know that many of these websites make a lot of money by charging the arrestees an exorbitant removal fee for these images?
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The Legality of the Practice
So, is this legal or can it be considered a violation of the Fourth Amendment?
Well, the short answer to this question is: it depends on the specific state law.
And it is worth noting that to date, 14 states in the country, including California, Texas, and Illinois, have enacted stringent legislation and rules prohibiting online merchants in the US from charging arrestees a hefty fee to remove their arrest photographs from mugshot websites.
Also, note that an online payment provider that on-boards these kinds of online merchants can be subjected to fines.
Working Around the Laws
The worrying part is that many mugshot websites in the country have either ignored the laws and regulations or quickly figured out new ways to work around them.
Also, keep in mind that in places where individuals can no longer pay in order to have their photographs deleted, they usually have no remedy to have them removed, which is a cause of concern.
These people have little to no control over where these mugshots end up once law enforcement agencies release the photos.
California Mugshot Law and The Publishing Industry
Without a definite federal law, In the US, the mugshot publishing industry is part of a market of tabloid journalism.
Regarding the California mugshot law, it is worth mentioning that the California mugshot publishing industry comprises organizations that publish mugshots as well as other booking information of people arrested by police and other law enforcement agencies in the state.
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Note that these companies publish the person’s arrest information, such as mugshots, in tabloids, via multi-jurisdictional and local search websites.
As you can imagine, the related reputation management industry in California profits when arrestees have to pay a considerable fee to have their mugshot or photos removed from one or multiple websites.
Did you know that in many cases, the same company owns the publishing site as well as the removal service?
As expected, this has led to allegations of as well as lawsuits for extortionate practices.
Initiatives in California to Rein in Mugshot Companies
In 2014, the state of California department of justice enacted a law that barred mugshot companies and websites from charging to remove photographs. However, even the proponents of this law do not know how well the law is working.
For example, when Stateline pressed him for evidence of the effectiveness of the law, the office of state Sen. Jerry Hill, found an operating website, WhoGotArrested.org, requesting people a fee to remove mugshots.
Similarly, the Attorney General of California, Xavier Becerra, filed money laundering and extortion charges against the owners of another website that publishes mugshots and then charges a fee for removing them.
His office is, for example, targeting Mugshots.com, which pulls mugshots and other identifying information, such as age and gender, about criminal suspects from various law enforcement departments around the state. According to Xavier Becerra’s office, the website charges a hefty “de-publishing fee” to remove somebody from its archives.
Recent Developments to Control Mugshot Publishing Companies
Note that there are some recent developments in the US penal code that are clearly signaling the end of an era for the prevalent practice of releasing mugshots and booking photographs.
First, Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, proposed banning the release and publication of mugshots and other arrest information. This can make these arrest records and photos exempt from the public records laws which usually govern their release.
Secondly, the owners of Mugshots.com saw a California judge on March 25 in order to enter a plea for criminal charges of money laundering, extortion, as well as identity theft. In its heyday, the website posted people’s booking photographs and then charged hundreds and even thousands of dollars just to remove them.
Although you may know that dozens of lawsuits have been filed against this website in the past, note that this is the first time that the state has filed criminal charges.
California Residents that Paid to have their Mugshots Removed
According to an affidavit filed in LA County Superior Court. A number of Californians paid hundreds of dollars recently to have their mugshots removed from the website.
Some of them are as follows,
A resident of Santa Rosa who spent a whole night in jail, but was not charged with any crime. He asked the publishing company to take his photo down. The company refused and this young man thinks his inclusion on the site was the probable cause for his inability to find work.
Another example is a Los Angeles man. His criminal conviction on a rape charge was vacated by a court. However, he ended up spending 9 years in a Utah prison. The man paid about $500 to have his mugshot removed from Mugshots.com. This is because he thought his inclusion on the site harmed his business and reputation.
California Mugshot Law, Loopholes
The sad reality in California is that as long as law enforcement agencies release mugshots or booking photos, then the online mugshot industry in the state will innovate within the existing limits of the law.
And since these California arrests, mugshot websites and companies in California have quickly and intelligently pivoted to charging for “online reputation management services,” rather than takedown fees.
Also, they are relying heavily on advertising revenue from inquisitive website visitors. And that is not all; mugshot websites and companies have started to publicly claim the First Amendment rights. For example, the Mugshots.com logo, now prominently shows the word “news” in the logo.
There is no doubt that there are some other options for treating mugshots and other pre-conviction arrest records in the state without ending up in trial court or needing the help of a lawyer.
For example, nearly all European countries regularly protect the privacy rights of the accused. They do so by limiting public access to criminal records in order to foster rehabilitation.
Keep in mind that curbing mugshots in California to prevent extortion and public shaming just does not equate to convert criminal justice operations—which, actually, are already quite secretive even with the current public records scheme.
It is certainly possible to promote an open and transparent government. While still preventing the release of millions of mugshots per year.
Following the information presented, we strongly believe that your current reputation should not be affected by any past mistakes you might have made.
At Net Reputation we can manage everything regarding your online reputation.
From removing ‘mugshots’ to suppressing negative information and repairing your online image, contact us today to find out everything that we can do for you.