I have had the privilege of representing many people across a great spectrum of cases, from personal injury, contract disputes, landlord/tenant, and criminal defense. On multiple occasions, many of my criminal defense clients have asked me about how to delete a mugshot, which is public record. Recently, I decided to do some research since mugshots can have a detrimental effect for someone, ranging from social stigma to being fired.
I found a very recent case in which a federal judge in Chicago has refused to dismiss a lawsuit involving Mugshots.com website which deliberately fails to update or correct outdated records. Why? Well, it creates incentives for arrestees to pay to get their photos removed through an affiliated website. The lawsuit also claims that the websites violated arrestees’ right of publicity because their mugshots are used as clickbait that attracts consumers and drives revenue for the removal service.
Judge Sharon Coleman, wrote, "It is not advertising use in the traditional sense, but Mugshots.com promotes itself with plaintiffs’ likenesses (and others), by using the embarrassing nature of an arrest to promote the website, draw consumers, and if it is their photo or likeness, provide an easy link to removal for a fee.”
Mugshots.com has an interesting defense resting entirely on its First Amendment right to post the records since they are a matter of public concern. Judge Coleman said the websites were commercial in nature and they weren’t entitled to complete protection of the First Amendment as a matter of law.
One of the plaintiffs, a former Illinois inmate says he lost a job and job offers because of his Mugshots.com profile, which wasn’t updated to show he had completed his sentence. When he called Unpublisharrest.com he was told he could remove his two mugshots for $2,000 plus a representation fee, while removal of the entire profile would be $15,000 plus a representation fee.
The eventual outcome of this case will have far reaching repercussions throughout the United States as more and more people who had their case dismissed, expunged, were found not guilty, successfully completed a diversion program, or served their time refuse to be subject to "legalize extortion."
"It's like I'm a month away from homelessness constantly, and it's because of these websites." — Peter Gabiola (lead plaintiff)