Just when you college students thought that you cleaned up your online image by scrubbing your Facebook page of any inappropriate photos, etc., the Internet rears its ugly head again with Mugshot websites. Any college student who has been arrested in the past year or so will soon learn that their face, i.e. their mugshot (the photo taken at their arrest) along with the accompanying arrest charges are all over the Internet on these new Mugshot websites. In Miami, Florida, where I practice criminal defense, this state is for some reason a hotbed for Mugshot websites. If you were arrested in Florida, your mugshot very well may already by on one of these websites.
How do these websites work? The websites gather information including your name, the charges and your photo upon your arrest from state or county public record websites and re-post them on their website. These mugshot photos could apparently remain out there on the websites forever – unless you agree to pay them anywhere from $100 to $500 to remove your name and image. After a college student is arrested a simple Google search with their name will reveal all the Mugshot websites that have their information. The only other way to have your mugshot removed from these websites is to have your criminal records sealed or expunged and then provide this documentation to each website. I have had 100% success so far in having mugshots removed after proper sealing and expunging but this is a long on tedious process going website by website. Read here about the other benefits of sealing and expunging college students’ arrest records.
Are these Mugshot websites legal? Doesn’t it seem like extortion to broadcast a college student’s arrest all over the Internet and then charge them money to remove the image. Even worse is this information remaining on these websites even after the charges are dismissed. So far these Mugshot websites appear to be completely legal. First, a college student’s arrest records including their mugshots are public records under state law. Therefore, there is nothing illegal about posting public information on a website. However, I question whether this remains legal AFTER the arrest records have been sealed or expunged because they are no longer public. Meaning, the state government can no longer publish or disseminate this information to the public so why can these private websites. I have researched this issues and even contacted the Florida Attorney General’s Office on behalf of a client about this issue and was advised in writing that this is a civil matter between the client and the website and there was nothing the State of Florida could or would do.
What can you do as a college student with a mugshot on one of these websites? It depends on what happened with your criminal case. But, I recommend you contact a criminal attorney who is experienced with this issue to discuss your options before you spend hundreds of dollars paying these websites to remove your image.