Being arrested is one of the most stressful events anyone can experience. If arrested, you’re also likely to experience feelings of shame, guilt, sadness, worry, and even anger.
Those feelings don’t go away quickly either. No matter what the outcome of your case, even if charges are quickly dropped and you’re able to have your record expunged, you’re still likely to feel some guilt or shame over being arrested in the first place.
Unfortunately, there’s a collection of parasitic companies engaging in legal extortion who prey on those feelings. I’m talking about companies who put your mugshots online and offer to remove them-- but only if you pay a hefty fee.
In today’s post, I’ll answer some common questions about mugshots, as well as why and how these websites operate, and what you can and should do about them. Keep reading to learn more.
When Are Mugshots Taken?
If you’re arrested, taken into custody, booked, and printed, you’ll have a mugshot taken.
It’s that simple.
Are Mugshots Private?
Mugshots are public records. This means that anyone can request access to anyone else’s mugshot. But, the process for requesting public records, including mugshots, varies from state to state and even from county to county.
For example, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office provides the public with a searchable, online directory of all current inmates, including their mugshots. Anyone can log on, search by a first and/or last name and find a mugshot for a current inmate. Multnomah County, on the other hand, doesn’t normally publish mugshots, but they can be obtained through a public records request.
The bottom line is: all mugshots are public record and can be accessed by anyone. It’s just that sometimes the process is easy and other times it’s a bit more involved.
The Problem with Mugshots
That leads me to the big problems with mugshots: they’re permanent, they’re public, and they don’t tell the whole story.
Mugshots aren’t flattering pictures, and they’re taken soon after a person arrested-- not their best moment. And worst of all, they just capture that moment in time. There’s no way to understand the whole story of an arrest from just a mugshot.
A mugshot doesn’t come with a disclaimer, “Case of mistaken identity and charges were dropped right away.”
Even if charges are dropped, the mugshots don’t go away. They’re a record of your arrest and booking and that doesn’t change. I’ve worked with several clients who were wrongfully arrested and within 24 hours of being booked had their charges dropped by the District Attorney. But their mugshots still exist.
What Are Mugshot Websites and Are They Legal?
When I say “mugshot websites,” I’m referring to businesses who exist only to publish the mugshots of people arrested for crimes on the internet. They are not providing a public service. Unfortunately, these businesses have found a legal, parasitic niche and they thrive for a number of reasons.
These sites often show up highly in Google searches and the owners of the sites hope that you’ll be so embarrassed of having your mugshot on the internet for everyone to see, that you’ll pay to have it removed.
These businesses take advantage of the feelings of guilt, shame, humiliation, and fear people feel when they’re arrested. And they hide behind the fact that mugshots are public records and the fact that they’re not breaking any laws.
It’s bad enough, for example, to be seen standing on the side of the road taking a field sobriety test, but it’s even worse to imagine a mugshot living online for all eternity to be found by anyone (spouse, employer, future landlord, etc.) who searches your name on Google. You’ll pay anything to have it removed and put your arrest behind you.
The companies who operate these websites understand this all too well. And by catching a person in a moment of weakness and taking advantage of their fear and shame, they are able to get people to pay.
Should I Pay to Have My Picture Removed?
I get calls all the time asking, “Should I pay to have my mugshot removed?” My answer, is a firm “No” and here’s why:
First, there’s not just one “mugshot website.” There’s quite a few of them and new ones show up frequently. There’s just not a significant barrier to enter this “industry” and the costs of running a mugshot website are low. So if you pay one site to have your mugshot removed, it’ll likely happen again with a different site. It’s a game you just can’t win.
Second, by paying, you’re just encouraging their business model and keeping the industry alive. By not paying, you’re making a stand showing you won’t be pressured and you’re moving on with your life.
Finally, times are changing. Many states, including Oregon, are passing so-called “Ban the Box” legislation, where employers aren’t allowed to ask about criminal background as part of the hiring process.
You just don’t need to worry about an arrest hurting your professional life as much as it may have in the past.
Is There Any Other Way to Have My Picture Removed?
Currently, even if charges are dropped and your record has been expunged, these sites will not remove your mugshot.
But, I suspect things may change in a few years. To my knowledge, there are a few lawyers working on lawsuits against these websites on the basis of libel and slander, claiming financial hardship. To date, none have succeeded.
However, I think that it’s possible one of these cases might succeed in the future, but only in cases of expunged charges (not simply dropped charges or a not guilty verdict).
If I Shouldn’t Pay and They Won’t Remove My Pictures, What Should I Do?
Nothing. There’s nothing you can do, and there’s nothing your lawyer can do to force these websites to remove your mugshot. My recommendation is to try and not think about it. Move on with your life as though that image doesn’t exist.
That said, I offer to help my clients however I can. If a client of mine is worried that a landlord, employer, or professional association will discover their mugshot, I’m happy to write a letter on my client’s behalf explaining the situation. This can buy goodwill and help clear up any misunderstandings before they start, especially if a client was wrongfully arrested.
Have you been arrested for DUI or DUII? I’m Adam Greenman, a Portland-based, personal injury, criminal defense, and DUI attorney, and I’m here to help you.
Contact me or call (503) 227-3800 for a free, confidential consultation. I take every question seriously and if you think you need legal help, the sooner I get started, the more I can help you.
"Having your mugshot out there for the entire world to see can be upsetting. There’s no doubt that the realities of how mugshots get on the internet and why they are difficult to remove are very discouraging. Taking financial advantage of someone’s shame and embarrassment shouldn’t be a successful business model. It’s especially victimizing in regard to people who are wrongfully arrested. With options limited and the only real hope for change restricted to cases of expunged charges, not giving in to what is essentially extortion may be the best choice." - Attorney Mike Stephenson