If you have ever been arrested, at some time you are sure to be asking “are mugshots public record?”
At best, a mugshot online is an embarrassing reminder of a past mistake. At their worst, mugshots online punish people from crimes they never committed. Even after you have served your sentence, even after your charges have been dropped, even after you have been exonerated, your mugshot stays online to keep on punishing you.
What makes online mugshots such an important question to millions of people?
Many former convicts and arrestees find that having their mugshots on the Internet poisons job opportunities. It’s hard enough to get a job with a gap in your job history. It’s nearly impossible to get a job, many aspiring applicants discover, when your mugshot is online.
Mugshots aren’t just a hurdle to finding a new job. They discourage new social connections. They can be a source of endless embarrassment if the booking camera caught you with an unusual facial expression and your mugshot becomes a meme.
Your mugshot never catches you at your best. Maybe your hair and your clothes are disheveled. Maybe you have red eyes from crying, or you look a little drunk or drugged out. You could have a black eye. Or your reaction to the embarrassment of having your photo taken could have been an addled grin.
Every year, the Prison Policy Initiative tells us, 600 hundred thousand Americans are booked into the nation’s 80 Native American Nation jails, 110 federal prisons,2 18 immigration detention centers, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 1,833 state prisons, and 3,134 local jails as well as into state psychiatric hospitals,civil commitment centers, military prisons, and corrections facilities in the U.S. territories. Each and every prisoner gets a new mugshot.
The bigger picture is that 10.6 million Americans annually are booked into holding on criminal charges. These are people who have not yet been found guilty of any crime. Most of them will make bail or be granted personal reconnaissance and released. Sometimes their charges will be dropped. Sometimes their charges will be handled with a deferred adjudication agreement that eventually erases the defendant’s criminal record.
Only about 1.6% of the millions of Americans who are forced to pose for a mugshot every year will be convicted of a crime and incarcerated as a result. But every one of those 10.6 million people will have a mugshot that state and federal laws allow to go online.
People of color have special problems with mugshots. Black people are arrested at a rate five times higher than white people, according to ABC News. A survey by the Fusion Channel on Univision found that 74% of Spanish-language newspapers publish mugshots.
There is little doubt that mugshots of people of color, no matter whether they are published in print or online, reinforce biases against them.
“People of color are already more likely to be found guilty at trial than their white counterparts,” said director of U.S. incarceration programs for the National Religious Campaign Against Torture Johnny Perez. “Anytime a mugshot is made public existing biases are reaffirmed and new biases are created where none existed before. They create this situation where people are criminalized before the facts are known,” he told the Marshall Project.
Countless newspapers post mugshots of people who are arrested in sting operations, especially those involving soliciting prostitution. In an era when fewer and fewer people buy print copies of the daily paper and more and more people get most of their news from social media, posting mugshots stimulates circulation of the printed paper and increases clicks on their website. And the obvious solution to the problem is usually an expensive exercise in futility.
Lawyers aren’t the answer when your mugshot shows up online.
Lawyers have many tools for addressing your criminal record. Here are a few of the most common legal tools for attempting to remove an arrest or conviction from public records.
Orders of Expunction
Expunction is the legal process of “expunging” something. Expunction deletes it, removes it, crosses it out.
Expunction is also known as expungement. Expunction is most commonly applied to criminal records, but there are also instances it is used on credit reports.
In theory, you don’t absolutely need an attorney to get your criminal record expunged. You would need to fill out an application on an application form, or file a petition with the court with jurisdiction over your arrest (if you were never tried) or your trial (if your case went to trial), in the appropriate legal language, with the right clerk, with an application fee.
Then, depending on where you live, you might have to hire a process server to deliver these carefully filled-out paperwork to the county attorney or district attorney who was in charge of your case, or their successor in office. You may need to prepare the actual Order of Expungement to be filled out by the judge.
The judge may require you to present your case in court to explain why your record should be expunged. Some states have automatic expungements for certain classes of crimes, but you can be required to cite the applicable law to the judge, as if the judge didn’t know it, and you need to be able to explain how your charge or conviction fits into the category covered by the law.
Once you get your expunction, then you must arrange for the judge’s order to be served on all the offices that maintain records of your arrest and/or trial. And sometimes the prosecuting attorney can raise an objection that shoots down all your progress.
Some persistent people get expungements of arrests and convictions on their own. Most people need to pay an attorney a few thousand dollars to get everything done procedurally right.
It’s also possible to get the court records of your arrest and conviction removed by an order of habeas corpus. It’s your constitutional right. Section 9, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution says, “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.”
Over the last 150 years, the right to a writ of habeas corpus has been extended to courts regulated by the states.
You may have a right to seek a writ of habeas corpus for crimes and accusations of crimes that do not involve national security if:
- A mistake was made by the court during your trial,
- Your attorney objected to that mistake during your trial, and
- The mistake contributed to your being found guilty.
Getting a writ of habeas corpus is never a do-it-yourself proposition. You’ll need an attorney, and you will pay a substantial fee, usually in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Here’s some bad news. Even if you go through expungement or habeas corpus, you won’t have an answer to “Are mugshots public record?”
Let’s say you jump all the legal hurdles and get your public record cleared. These time-consuming, nerve-wracking, budget-busting legal actions don’t get your mugshots off the Internet. You won’t ever have to identify yourself as someone who has been arrested and convicted for that crime, but your photo will still be out there on countless websites.
But why are mugshots public record? Don’t they have to remove my mugshot once I’ve done my time?
It seems only fair that people convicted of crimes who have served their sentences shouldn’t be further penalized by having their intake photographs online. Mugshots just extend the punishment for the deed after you’ve completed your sentence from the court. It just doesn’t seem fair.
Employers take a different view of this issue. Certain kinds of jobs require careful scrutiny of the job applicant’s past for hints of criminality.
Even in the 13 states and numerous cities and countries with “ban the box” laws that prohibit asking about criminal history on a job application (usually just for government jobs), all it takes is a simple online search for a potential employer to relegate your application to the rejected pile.
That’s true even if you weren’t ever convicted of a crime, as long as your mugshot is online. Even if your criminal record has been sealed, expunged or statutorily eradicated, an online mugshot
And once your mugshot is online, there will always be people who just want to cause you trouble.
The legal reality is that your mugshot is made public in part because jails and prisons and other sites of incarceration are bound by our Constitution to honor the previously mentioned principle of habeas corpus.
A jail legally can’t hold you indefinitely (which isn’t to say it never happens) without letting the public know where you are. Mugshots are made public record so no one who has been accused and arrested for a crime gets lost in the system.
The fact that the jail or prison makes your mugshot publicly available is not about your constitutional right to be treated as innocent until you are proven guilty. It’s about your constitutional right not to be held indefinitely without a charge.
The fact that newspapers and other websites make your mugshot publicly available, however, is about increasing their bottom line. Laws that before the Internet were designed to protect you have been turned upside down to cause you harm. Fortunately, there is a way to get your mugshots off the Internet.
Mugshot removal can be as easy as 1-2-3.
The simple way to get your mugshots taken offline is to let RemoveMugshots.com do all the work for you. The sites that post your mugshot post them to make money. That means that they are using your private property — your image — to increase their profits without paying you.
And they have no intention of paying you.
RemoveMugshots.com finds every website that posts your mugshot. They demand justice for the use of your image. And when faced with the legal reality of substantial commercial liability, these websites take down your mugshot, usually within 72 hours.
It takes about another 48 hours to get your mugshot out of Internet search results.
Don’t let some attorney discourage you from getting your mugshots off the Internet the easy way. The same lawyers who will charge you thousands of dollars for getting an order of expungement will tell you that mugshot removal services are scandalously expensive.
You don’t have to stay up at night worrying “Are mugshots public record?”
Contact us for a free estimate of the cost of getting your mugshot off the Internet. Your new reputation may be just a week away.