Have you heard about the growing prevalence of mugshot websites? These sites collect sensitive information and photos about people that anyone can access. If your photo is a matter of public record, you could be on one of these sites without knowing: Here are the common questions people have about online mugshots and what you can do about them.
What is a Mugshot Site?
A mugshot site is a website that collects mugshots, booking photos, and similar images online, along with information about arrest records, and creates a directory that people can search. That means if you were arrested or charged with criminal activity, your information may appear on these sites. That means people searching for your name, even on a basic Google search, may run across those photos and records.
Where Do Sites Get That Information?
So, are mugshots public record? Yes, they usually are. Unless directly changed by the courts, mugshots and criminal records are considered public record, which means they are available for anyone to see – and sometimes, if courts take a long time or miss important steps to expunge charges, that means even false arrests or mistaken charges can appear on mugshot sites. In some cases they may even appear before a court case reaches a verdict, which can lead to even more mistaken impressions.
Decades ago this wasn’t a big issue, as people had to seek out public records in person at a courthouse if they wanted to find this information. But today, most public records are also available in online databases, which means that mugshots online sites can easily search and collect that information immediately, even while a case is ongoing or before a local government (not known for their speed) can remove records of mistaken arrests.
That can create big problems if, for example, an employer is running a background check ahead of hiring someone for a position.
Does Every State Do This?
State laws can vary based on how much information is available on public records, but generally, at least basic information about arrests can be accessed. Some states even allow full access to trial information.
Can I Remove These Mugshots?
This is the big question, and the answer is a little complicated. Most mugshot sites exist to make revenue by charging people to remove their mugshots: That’s predatory and potentially illegal, but it doesn’t stop websites from trying. Other mugshot sites may remove mugshots for free, especially if a person can prove it’s not actually them (people with similar names may run into this problem), or prove that charges were dropped, or that their name was cleared in another way. This can be time-consuming – plus, as they say, once something is on the internet it is notoriously difficult to get it off, and other mugshot sites in the future may also try to access public records to get photos again.
We suggest looking into a dedicated service to help remove mugshots from Google and those mugshot websites. These services use their legal experience and search engine knowledge to help get your mugshot taken down quickly.