Your Mugshot May Haunt You Forever

  • Feb 24 2020

What do Justin Bieber, Beto O’Rourke, and the NFL’s Antonio Brown have in common? They have all been arrested in Florida and had their mugshots shared all over the internet. These guys already made a name for themselves, so having a mugshot floating around is probably not going to ruin their career. The average person, however, may experience serious repercussions if their mugshot goes viral, even if they were never convicted of a crime.

Thanks to Florida’s liberal open records law, which releases almost all government documents to the public, mugshot shaming has become a “thing.” Various click-bait websites round-up lists of what they consider to be the most notable mugshots and people vote on the funniest, hottest, and weirdest pics. 

These websites are aided in their quest for viral material by the media. For example, the South Florida Sun Sentinel hosts all of the mugshots taken by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office for the past 90 days. Although the website includes a disclaimer stating that the people pictured have not been convicted of the charges listed, and are presumed innocent, when most people see a mugshot they automatically assume the person pictured did what they’re accused of – or at least did something. 

Is there anything I can do about my mugshot?

While there is little that can be done about the public release of a mugshot to a legitimate news source thanks to the protections provided by the First Amendment, Florida has passed a law attempting to stop shady websites from charging a fee to have your mugshot removed from their site. 

Florida State Statute 901.43 provides: 

(1) Any person or entity engaged in the business of publishing through a publicly accessible print or electronic medium or otherwise disseminating arrest booking photographs of persons who have previously been arrested may not solicit or accept a fee or other form of payment to remove the photographs.

(2) A person whose arrest booking photograph is published or otherwise disseminated, or his or her legal representative, may make a request, in writing, for the removal of an arrest booking photograph to the registered agent of the person or entity who published or otherwise disseminated the photograph. The written request for removal of the arrest booking photograph must be sent by registered mail and include sufficient proof of identification of the person whose arrest booking photograph was published or otherwise disseminated and specific information identifying the arrest booking photograph that the written request is seeking to remove. Within 10 days of receipt of the written request for removal of the arrest booking photograph, the person or entity who published or otherwise disseminated the photograph shall remove the arrest booking photograph without charge.

(3) The person whose arrest booking photograph was published or otherwise disseminated in the publication or electronic medium may bring a civil action to enjoin the continued publication or dissemination of the photograph if the photograph is not removed within 10 calendar days after receipt of the written request for removal. The court may impose a civil penalty of $1,000 per day for noncompliance with an injunction and shall award reasonable attorney fees and court costs related to the issuance and enforcement of the injunction. Moneys recovered for civil penalties under this section shall be deposited into the General Revenue Fund.

(4) Refusal to remove an arrest booking photograph after written request has been made constitutes an unfair or deceptive trade practice in accordance with part II of chapter 501.

(5) This section does not apply to any person or entity that publishes or disseminates information relating to arrest booking photographs unless the person or entity solicits or accepts payment to remove the photographs.

Let’s break this down and put it in plain English. 

It’s now illegal for a website to charge you a fee to get your mugshot removed from their website. All you need to do is ask them to take down your picture. In theory, if they refuse to do so, you can sue them. 

I say you can sue them “in theory” because the reality is a lot of these websites are hosted in the Caribbean, or they will periodically take their whole site down and then re-upload all the data under a different URL, so you are constantly playing whack-a-mole trying to get your picture removed. 

Everything on the internet lives forever, no matter how hard you try to fight it. You could drive yourself crazy trying to get your mugshot taken down from various sites, but you would probably do better to spend your time and energy working with a criminal defense attorney to clear your name

Posted in: Criminal