Mug Shot

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Have you been arrested in Florida? Your mug shot is probably still online.

I get a few calls every week from former clients whose cases I’ve actually gotten dismissed, or even sealed/expunged, who can still find their arrest photos online. These are decent people who have been fired from jobs because their employer randomly decided to Google them; these are people who have been refused employment because their mug shot is floating around the internet. Some of these good citizens have been unable to rent apartments because they have an arrest record according to a quick search on the internet. My clients are upset and they deserve to be. Unfortunately, due to Florida’s broad public records laws, arrest and booking photos are public records that can and do get posted on non-law enforcement websites for the entire world to see. This has started a cottage industry where websites like, Mugshots.com and TheSmokingGun.com, make their business out of capturing daily booking photos from across the nation and posting them online. These companies typically post the arrest photos of very attractive females or persons with outlandish tattoos or colorful hairstyles on their homepages to try to grab your attention. Even local news organizations are getting into the act by posting their daily jail booking photos online. But what I’ve found out from my clients is that when they contact these companies about taking down their photos because they were never convicted or were wrongfully arrested, most companies will typically do so only if the client agrees to pay them. So you see, this practice really isn’t about outing convicted criminals or increasing public safety in communities. Rather it’s really just about making money and driving sales. And let me assure you, business is good (very good) in today’s society where all too often people are presumed guilty. While this all seems very unfair and overly punitive to those who have been arrested but not convicted, the practice appears to be legal, at least for now.

I am therefore thrilled to report that this issue has captured the attention of two lawmakers in Tallahassee. Senator Charlie Dean, the former Sheriff of Citrus County, Florida, and Representative Carl Zimmerman, have filed legislation aimed at cracking down on these websites. Senate bill (SB 1060) and House bill (HB 677) would require all websites to remove mug shots and all personal information within 15 days of written notification from a person that the charges were dropped or otherwise resolved without a conviction. The legislation would prohibit websites from charging a fee for removal of the information and subjects the website operator to fines and even a defamation lawsuit if they fail to comply with the request. Neither bill has been heard in committee yet, but I will follow the legislation and post regular updates as they progress through both chambers of the Florida Legislature. I will do whatever I can to see that this law passes.

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