John A. Steakely

Attorney John Steakley is a 1996 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law. He began his career as the Special Prosecutor for Drug Crimes for a multi-county, multi-agency drug task force in Tennessee, where he represented the State of Tennessee in thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases in a 5-county judicial district.

Online Mugshots, Removal, and Georgia HB 150

Online Mugshots, Removal, and Georgia HB 150

One doesn't have to look very long on places like to find someone asking about removing a mugshot from public view on the internet.  There are dozens - if not more - mugshot websites that collect mugshots, names and charges from the various county jail websites all around the country and repost them.  Once reposted, the websites wait for someone to contact them asking the picture to be removed.  The websites will remove them, for a fee, but nothing prevents another website from opening up tomorrow and republishing the same picture. 

In what is really a toothless attempt to look like they are doing something, the Georgia legislature passed a mugshot removal act, House Bill 150.  HB 150 purports to require removal of mugshots for free, upon request, for people who fall into certain categories:

(i) Access to his or her case or charges was restricted pursuant to Code Section 35-3-37;
(ii) Prior to indictment, accusation, or other charging instrument, his or her case was never referred for further prosecution to the proper prosecuting attorney by the arresting law enforcement agency and the offense against such individual was closed by the arresting law enforcement agency;
(iii) Prior to indictment, accusation, or other charging instrument, the statute of limitations expired;
(iv) Prior to indictment, accusation, or other charging instrument, his or her case was referred to the prosecuting attorney but was later dismissed;
(v) Prior to indictment, accusation, or other charging instrument, the grand jury returned two no bills;
(vi) After indictment or accusation, all charges were dismissed or nolle prossed;
(vii) After indictment or accusation, the individual pleaded guilty to or was found guilty of possession of a narcotic drug, marijuana, or stimulant, depressant, or hallucinogenic drug and was sentenced in accordance with the provisions of Code Section 16-13-2, and the individual successfully completed the terms and conditions of his or her probation; or
(viii) The individual was acquitted of all of the charges by a judge or jury.

Note that O.J. Simpson would qualify for removal under the Georgia law following his acquittal for murder, and the removal would be from the view of ALL viewers, not just Georgia viewers.  Since when does any state have the authority to decide what the other 49 states can see on the internet?

Here's the first problem with HB 150:  most of these companies aren't in Georgia and many aren't even in the United States.  So what you have is a Georgia company trying to tell an out-of-state company what they can and can't publish to people inside and outside of Georgia.  It would be like Georgia trying to censor the New York Times website from viewers in Kansas. 

Speaking of the NYT, they recently covered the issue themselves:

The trick is balancing the desire to guard individual reputations with the news media’s right to publish. Journalists put booking photographs in the same category as records of house sales, school safety records and restaurant health inspections — public information that they would like complete latitude to publish, even if the motives of some publishers appear loathsome.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press favors unfettered access to the images, no matter how obscure the arrestee and no matter the ultimate disposition of the case. Even laws that force sites to delete images of the exonerated, the committee maintains, are a step in the wrong direction.

“It’s an effort to deny history,” says Mr. Caramanica, the committee director. “I think it’s better if journalists and the public, not the government, are the arbiters of what the public gets to see.”

Another problem is that the mugshots are TRUE.  The people really were arrested and charged.  The mugshot websites aren't saying they were convicted (and some of them weren't), but there's no disputing that the arrest happened. 

Mugshot websites are able to do what they do only because Georgia sheriffs post pictures of arrestees online BEFORE they are convicted.  By the time the charges are dismissed, the mugshot websites have already scooped up the mugshot.  If Georgia wants to bring this practice to a halt, they need to limit the abilities of the Sheriffs to post mugshots before conviction.

I suggest you don't waste your money paying for one of the 80+ mugshot sites to remove your mugshot, because it's just going to pop up on another one tomorrow.

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