When someone is arrested in Florida, the mugshot taken at the police station can haunt them for the rest of their lives, even if they are never charged or convicted. Many professional organizations, educational institutions, and employers may turn someone away just because of a mugshot. A new bill signed by Governor Scott should make it easier to escape the stigma of a mugshot.
Before the bill was signed, online databases that collect and post mugshots could charge people fees to have it taken down. If multiple websites posted a mugshot of an individual, it could easily cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to have the mugshot removed from all sources and their reputation restored. This is no longer the case. A new law implemented in 2018 aims to make it easier to remove online mugshots. The bill signed by Governor Scott makes it illegal for online databases to charge or solicit a fee for the removal of mugshots. As the bill states, refusing or failing to remove an arrest booking photograph is now to be considered a direct violation of Florida’s trade practice laws.
The new law makes it illegal for websites that host mugshot photos to charge fees for removing those photos, but enforcing the law is difficult as most of the websites that host such images have bases outside of Florida or even outside the country.
The logic behind this law is that an innocent person should not have to bear the negative consequences of the mere existence of a mugshot, and demanding a fee for removal of mugshot images is akin to blackmail. If a person requests that a website remove a mugshot photo, the website must comply within ten days or face a $1,000 per day fine, plus court fees and attorneys’ costs. The new law also allows individuals to sue such companies for failing to remove mugshot photos.
(You can review the bill in full by clicking here and visiting the Florida Administrative Code & Florida Administrative Register website.)
If you have a mugshot photo hosted on a website based in Florida, you can send a request for the website to take it down immediately. Failure to comply will lead to the penalties described in the new law for the hosting company, but if the company’s base is outside of Florida you cannot rely on the new law to have your photo removed free of charge. You need to follow specific instructions when creating your petition, which will be sent through traditional mail. Despite the signing of the new bill, online databases may still be able to keep a mugshot posted if there are flaws in the petition.
Some companies charge several hundred dollars for mugshot photo removal and others will only do so if you can prove your exoneration, charge dismissal, or case conclusion with a “not guilty” verdict. Additionally, many of the companies that handle photo removal actually work with the mugshot hosting companies. This may seem shady, but the reality is that these arrangements are usually perfectly legal.
Another option would be to hire an attorney to issue a demand letter to the mugshot photo hosting company. The attorney will essentially threaten legal action against the company for failure to remove the client’s mugshot photo in a reasonable time. In most cases, such a demand letter may be enough to encourage a mugshot photo hosting company to remove a photo. Even if the company has a right to host the photo, the threat of expensive litigation is not worth the trouble to these companies.
If you do hire an attorney, bear in mind that the cost of attorney’s fees may surpass the cost of using a mugshot removal service. The other risk of this approach is that the company may not acquiesce to your attorney’s demand letter if the company has legal grounds to host the photo. A lengthy lawsuit will be even more expensive and the law will not be on your side. Additionally, there could be multiple hosting sites and pursuing legal action against all of them can be very expensive.
Despite the potential costs of legal representation, hiring an attorney may be the best way to handle mugshot photo removal. An attorney can put pressure on websites that are noncompliant with the new Florida law for mugshot removal fees or pursue legal action against websites based outside of Florida in accordance with their states’ laws. An attorney can help you gather the documentation necessary to prove your exoneration or case conclusion or satisfy any other requirements for mugshot photo removal.
You can remove the guesswork from your petition by teaming up with a Hollywood criminal defense attorney from Fischer Redavid PLLC. We are a highly-experienced, sharply-focused team of legal professionals dedicated to getting things done right the first time. Contact us today for more information about our criminal defense legal services.