The New York Times recently had an excellent article, found here, about the proliferation of websites that post the “mug shots” of individuals who have been arrested. With my practice as an Iowa City criminal defense lawyer I’ve started to see these websites pose problems for my clients.
One of the biggest problems regarding mug shot websites is that these websites often display mug shot photos without any context. The mug shot of a mistakenly arrested individual who was soon released without being charged is displayed along with the mug shots of those charged and convicted of very serious offenses. Moreover, these mug shots websites often take away the benefit of an individual who gets their case expunged or sealed due to good behavior subsequent to their arrest.
These websites attempt make their profits from “offering” to remove a mug shot for a fee. This practice creates an extortion-like scenario where the website will remove this act of public humiliation for a fee. Even if an individual pays to have their mug shot removed from a site, they then must contend with the numerous other sites that have the individual’s mug shot in their database. Consequently, attempting to remove a mug shot online becomes a very expensive game of whack a mole.
As the New York Times article linked above notes, hopefully changes are on the horizon to address many of the problematic aspects of these websites. Some states are contemplating legislation to curb the websites, many credit card companies are severing relationships with the sites, and Google is apparently making changes to their algorithm that will make it more difficult to find this information in a search.