“The commercialization of consumer and government data.”
That is what UC Hastings law professor Eumi Lee, as quoted in an article in The Guardian, says marks a turning point in criminal justice reform.
What do I mean?
I’m talking about how scary it is to face arrest. And not just because of any criminal charges you might face. It’s scary for another reason. Most states make your mugshot a matter of public record. That means it’s immediately available online for anyone to see.
It doesn’t matter if you were arrested and all charges were later dropped. It doesn’t matter if the injuries you sustained in your photo were a result of police brutality. To an internet viewer, you are already guilty because of that mugshot.
Why Mugshots Are So Dangerous
Did you know that courts often keep mugshots from juries during trials? Do you know why? It’s because of the association that comes with a mugshot is so damaging. Pictorial evidence of your arrest could unfairly bias a jury against you in a court of law.
So how is it legal for mugshots to be posted by police departments online?
Our federal government considers mugshots private. However, the truth is, your arrest is a matter of public record. Anyone could file a freedom of information request to get your arrest record. Many local police departments share the digital booking information as a way to notify the public. It has been going on for nearly two decades in every state except Georgia.
If it were only a matter of private citizens being able to access your whole file to be able to see the correct story that would be one thing. However, sites like Mugshots.com only need your picture to do their dirty work. From there, all it takes is a concerned citizen to report you to the police for no other reason than that your mugshot ended up online – sometimes with a false story.
When this happens to you over and over again, you might be willing to pay a high fee to have the picture removed. That is what these so-called companies are betting on.
So if you can’t pay the fee? Your life is affected as if you had committed the crime. Your job opportunities, rental options, and relationships can all vanish.
Combating Mugshot Exploitation
Even though there is more than one website which deals in the misfortune of others, Mugshots.com has sustained a blow. The Northern California Computer Crimes Task Force led an investigation into the “business” practices of this website. What the task force found was that Thomas Keesee, Sahar Sarid, Kishore Vidya Bhavnanie and David Usdan raked in $2 million in three years from “mugshot removal fees.”
Now they are being charged with extortion, money laundering, and identity theft.
Maybe with these arrests, lawmakers will start to see the importance of passing laws to protect people who have been arrested. Google has a responsibility too. The world’s most popular search engine profits from mugshot clickbait. That shouldn’t keep Google from doing the right thing, as it did with the advertising of bail bonds and high-interest payday loans.
Often, though, people are left to fend for themselves. Those who can afford to pay and to hire an attorney may have some success. Others are out of luck.
If you get arrested and are worried about your mugshot ending up on one of these sites, you can take legal action. If you have been accused of extortion, please contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.