Mugshots in News Articles: Why They Appear, and How They Can Harm

Mugshot newspapers like Just Busted print a catalogue of photographs of people who have been arrested. In an article about the practice, published in Tennessee, an editor of a paper like this claims that the publication can “inform and empower people.” Reputable newspapers that publish mugshots may have very different reasons for printing the same images, but the damage they can do to a person's reputation can be just as intense.

In journalism school, writers are asked to report only the facts, leaving any kind of opinion behind them. The idea is to tell people about the important issues that have taken place within the community, and allow the readers to make up their own minds about the events, given the facts at hand. A mugshot can, at times, help to tell that story. A mugshot is, after all, photographic proof that an arrest took place. Running alongside a story about an arrest, a mugshot seems to make perfect sense.

Mugshots like this have become so commonplace that readers seem to expect them, and they write letters when they don't see the images they think belong on the pages. That's just what happened in North Carolina, for example, when a community newspaper printed a series of stories about a fraud scheme. One article contained a mugshot. The other did not, and since the woman who wasn't shown was white and the one who was shown was black, some readers took offense. The editor of this paper was forced to write a letter, outlining the circumstances that led to the printing of one mugshot and the omission of another. In an environment like this, it's no wonder that reporters scour mugshot websites when they're trying to illustrate their stories. If readers expect them, the journalists must produce them.

Unfortunately, a mugshot in a news story could be a mugshot that stays in place forever. Journalists tend to take a hardline stance about deleting information they've published, saying that removal is akin to changing history. As a result, a mugshot that runs alongside a news article could be easy for anyone to find years down the road, even if the charges were later dropped.

Some newspapers are also printing mugshots for what might be considered “entertainment” purposes. For example, the Phoenix New Times publishes a series of mugshots each week, highlighting photographs that seem strange, unusual or funny. These photographs run with disparaging comments about the people in the images, and they seem to have no real newsworthy properties at all. When newspapers cross the line like this, it seems reasonable to question the ethics of the publisher. Are they really covering the news, or are they just trying to humiliate people?

Fighting back against mugshot coverage like this often means hiring an expert. We can, for example, work with newspapers to get your photographs and news articles unpublished. We can work with mugshot websites to get your photos taken down. We can even scour the internet for the other copies of your photograph that might be online somewhere, and we can delete those copies, too. In some cases, we can get things taken down the very same day. If you've been arrested, you need our help. Contact us

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Will Oregon's Proposed Mugshot Law Help You If You're Arrested?

Sites like oregon.arrests.org have made a living off of publishing mugshot images and records.  People looking to remove a record from oregon.arrests.org and other Oregon mugshot websites will find it difficult if not impossible to remove a mugshot themselves.  Companies like ourselves have emerged to dedicate our full time resources to removing Internet mugshots.  If you have a mugshot on Google and are in need of immediate assistance, we can help.   We offer a free consultation and immediate deletion of all traces to your mugshot record.

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Under the current system, many counties in Oregon publish their mugshots on their websites, and it's easy for mugshot website administrators to scrape those photos and populate their own sites with the data they find. Oregon House Bill 3467, introduced in April of 2013, would place a barrier between mugshot websites and law enforcement agencies. If this bill passes, mugshot sites would have to go to each and every county jail in person and ask for copies of photographs of people who have been arrested. Only one request could be made at a time, and there's a fee involved for each and every request. The full text of the bill is here.

The idea behind bills like this is to make mugshot websites a little harder to operate. If bills like this pass, companies would have to do more than just run a scraping computer program in order to populate their mugshot websites. They'd have to pay fees, hire staff, do cleanup and otherwise put boots on the ground in the states in which they do business. It's likely that the companies would just go out of business instead, and this would mean that innocent people would no longer see their mugshots populating the internet.

Not surprisingly, this idea isn't popular with administrators of mugshot websites. Writers at Mugshots.com, for example, created a blog entry about the Oregon bill and here, they claim that the passage of the bill would be detrimental to people who live in Oregon. They write, “If HB 3467 were to become law, Oregonians would be deprived of relevant information about who is living in their communities and as a result will undoubtedly be less informed and less safe.” Presumably, these writers believe that people in Oregon are browsing mugshot websites and finding only guilty people, who they can then shun and avoid. In reality, it's likely that people in Oregon look at the photos for entertainment, as do people living in other states, and the passage of the law would have no impact on crime whatsoever. Additionally, protests from people who profit from mugshots aren’t likely to pull much weight with lawmakers who dislike the mugshot industry. The author of this bill, for example, told the Oregonian that the mugshot industry was “predatory.” People who feel this way aren't likely to listen to anything a mugshot administrator might have to say on the subject.

Unfortunately, the bill is also facing ire from journalists, and these people have the ability to make the bill die before it hits the floor for voting. These people also have a vested interest in gaining quick access to arrest records so they can illustrate their stories on tight deadlines. In an editorial in the Baker City Herald, writers suggest that mugshots are part of the public record, and they should stay there. In fact, the editorial board suggests that bills like this should be banned precisely because they make public information harder to obtain. Editorials like this could make Oregonians call their legislators and ask them to vote against the bill.

Oregon

The bottom line? This isn't a bill that's likely to pass in Oregon, and if it does, it's likely to be a source of furious debate about implementation and process. If you've already been arrested, this bill comes too late for you, and if you're arrested in the future, help might still be a long time in coming. For now, your best bet continues to be the help a reputation management company can provide. Contact us to find out more about our customized solutions.

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To Restrict or Not to Restrict? That's the Mugshot Question

Everyone can agree about what a mugshot is: A historic record taken by law enforcement officials to document a person's arrest for a specific alleged crime. Unfortunately, officials disagree widely about how those mugshots should be used once they've been taken. Some law enforcement officials believe that the shots should be shared widely, while others think that sharing the shots could be catastrophic. This discussion is likely to play out for months or even years, and even then, it's possible that each state in the union will have slightly different rules concerning mugshots, meaning that it's possible that an arrest in one state leads to reputation problems, while an arrest in another stays private.

New Jersey, for example, maintains that mugshots are part of the public record, but that the shots should be kept private because they can influence a jury. In an article about the issue, the acting Monmouth County prosecutor suggests that releasing mugshots could taint the opinions of community members who might later be asked to serve on a jury. When they see the defendant sitting in the courtroom, the reasoning goes, they'd think back to the photo they saw, and that damaging image might trigger a little seed of doubt about the person's innocence. It could be hard to get a fair trial, if the photo was spread far enough.

Lawmakers in both Florida and Utah seem to agree that mugshots can be harmful, and both states have proposed legislation that would force agencies to remove mugshots at no fee if the charges were later dropped or resolved in some other way. Journalists have been fighting these cases mighty hard, as they suggest that laws like this place an unfair burden on reporters, who are only reporting on an arrest and not a conviction, but some of these laws are already on the books and more are in the works. South Carolina, for example, is considering similar legislation and some counties in that state are moving to keep their mugshots private.

Not everyone agrees with this strategy. In fact, there are some law enforcement agents who believe that sharing mugshots widely actually deters crime, and they're moving forward with plans to publish their photos in all kinds of places. In O'Fallon, Missouri, for example, police are now sharing mugshots of people accused of shoplifting. The police officers believe, according to news reports, that shoplifting is a trivialized crime with real victims, and by sharing photos on their departmental website, these police agents hope to make the crime just a little more painful.

So what's an arrested person to do, when a mugshot hits the web? Is it legal? How can it be removed? Parsing through all of the laws about the use of mugshots can be difficult, especially since the legislation is always changing and it's difficult to know which information is current and applies to your situation. Sometimes, it's best to leave the issue in the hands of experts. We know all about the mugshot laws that apply in each and every state, and we're adept at creating customized and quick solutions that can help our clients to remove their mugshots and move forward with their lives. With our help, it's easy. Contact us to get started.

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Internet Mugshots: Preventing Crime or Creating Victims?

After an arrest, police officers take a photograph of the accused person, and they store that document in a database that also contains information about the person's name, age, height and place of residence. It's a bit like making a catalogue of people who might have the tendency to commit a crime in the future, and it can come in handy when a new string of crimes takes place. If the person's been spotted, and a mugshot record exists, the police can issue an APB with the person's mugshot and ask for the community's help in spotting the person. That's just what police did in Staten Island, for example, when a string of purse snatches came to their attention. They released a mugshot of a woman they wanted to talk to about the issue, and they asked for the community's help.

Mugshot websites that collect photographs and arrest information from police agencies also get into the most-wanted act from time to time, releasing mugshots from their own collections along with information about the crimes the person may (or may not) have committed. Mugshots.com did this, for example, when a New York man was wanted for questioning in a string of vandalism crimes.

While it's possible that releasing a mugshot could lead to the questioning of a guilty party and perhaps the resolution of a crime, it's also possible that a mugshot could lead to a terrible miscarry of justice, and a whole new set of victims. After all, it's likely that these mugshots are released based on eyewitnesses to a crime, who then matched their memories with the photos of mugshots they're shown in collections at police offices. When these eyewitnesses spot someone familiar, out goes the APB. According to an article in the Suffolk University Law Review, mistaken eyewitness accounts are the leading cause of mistaken convictions in the United States, responsible for about 75 percent of 300 cases that were later thrown out due to DNA evidence. On average, people who were exonerated spent 13.6 years behind bars. People just can't remember with the kind of accuracy an appropriate arrest requires, and people might do time for no reason at all as a result.

Additionally, releasing a mugshot like this could lead to severe reputation damage. When police release mugshots for investigation purposes, they often remove their requests from their own sites when the crimes are solved. Mugshot sites, on the other hand, may not remove their articles, and as a result, the wrong people might be hunted down for their crimes for years.

Mugshot companies make no apologies about this. In fact, some mugshot publishers have even gone on record, admitting that their work has little to do with solving crime. For one example, one publisher of a hard-copy mugshot collection told a reporter: “We strike a chord with our readers. If you’re going down a highway and see a police officer handcuffing someone, you slow down and look. The most popular TV show is Cops … We’re Cops in print … Busted is gossipy and we’ve got the colorful news that you don’t seen in the Star Tribune.”

No matter how often mugshot publishers may claim that their work helps to solve crime, the fact remains that their sites are designed to shame and to entertain, and the people who appear on these sites pay the price. If you're on a site like this, contact us. We can help.

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Joke or No, Mugshot Websites Are Dangerous

On April 1, frustrated comedians everywhere take to the Internet to drum up bogus stories to fool innocent readers. On April 1, 2013, for example, Google announced a new application that would help readers to identify odors they once found unnamable. Virgin Airlines, on the other hand, announced that users could soon take flights in glass-bottomed planes, watching the world fly by down below. Even the United States Army got into the act, claiming that it would soon start training cats to work alongside military police as part of a cost-cutting program. All of these examples are amusing, but one site touched a nerve, at least for us, and we thought it might be time to do a little explaining.

Mugshot Joke

On this same day, PoliceOne.com ran a fraudulent story suggesting that the ACLU wants policemen to make sure people look their best before they're asked to sit for a mugshot. If that's not an option, then subjects should be given the opportunity to use computer software to blend away their imperfections. The article is illustrated with a pair of mugshots: One shows a balding man with crooked teeth, and the altered photo shows the same man with new teeth and a new hairstyle.

Ha-ha.

The real issue isn't how people look in the photographs. The issue is that mugshots move from police departments to for-profit websites. Once they appear here, the photos make people look guilty, even when they're not, and mugshots can stay in place even if the charges are later overturned or the case is otherwise dismissed. A search for the person's name might bring back dozens of copies of the same damaging mugshot, and the person might lose out on jobs, romantic opportunities and more, even when no real harm has been done and no crime has been committed.

Few politicians find the issue amusing, and as a result, there are many laws that are currently working their way through state systems. In Georgia, for example, a law would require companies to remove mugshots when people are found innocent of the crimes they were accused of. If the sites were so bland as to be amusing, no laws like this would be needed.

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We understand humor, and we can be as amusing as anyone else. But when it comes to mugshots, we think it's much too easy to laugh and gloss over the real damage everyday people experience after they're arrested. Instead of laughing, we choose to take action. As soon as clients contact us, we work hard to delete each and every mugshot of that person we can find, and we stay on alert and remove any future copies that pop up. We take the issue as seriously as our clients do, and that's why we don't think the sites are a laughing matter.

Cats in the military, though, that's one for the record books.

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