The Damage Associated with Making Mugshots Public

By Jonathan Blecher on December 7, 2021

After a person is arrested in most states, the police department or county jail may post the mugshot photo online or otherwise make them available to the public. However, this practice can do more harm than good.

Mugshots often show people in their worst state, whether they are red-eyed from crying, appear visibly intoxicated, or have cuts and bruises on their faces. Unfortunately, those who view these photos may automatically assume criminality, despite the lack of evidence or conviction, resulting in bias from potential employers, landlords, and even friends or romantic partners.

In general, posting mugshots publicly essentially deters a person’s ability to rebuild his/her life. The photo may appear at the top of search results page after typing the individual’s name on Google.

The lasting impact of publishing mugshots on the internet has sparked changes in recent years.

In fact, many news outlets have stopped posting photos. Although mugshot slideshows generate page views and, thus, advertising revenue, individuals in these photos are still innocent until proven guilty.

Additionally, some law enforcement agencies have followed the trend.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the Justice Department has repeatedly refused to release mugshots, stating in a brief related to a federal appeals case:

“Mug shots reveal much more than the sterile fact of arrest and booking. They graphically depict individuals in the embarrassing, nonpublic moment of their processing into the criminal justice system. The adage that one picture is worth a thousand words is apt in this context: The visual depiction of the individual’s appearance at booking in a law-enforcement facility reflects a uniquely powerful and lasting image of what can be one of the most difficult episodes in an individual’s life.”

The San Francisco Police Department has stopped making most mugshots public in July 2020 to prevent racial bias. Now, the department only publishes arrest photos in order to find a suspect, find a missing person, or otherwise serve a clear police objective.

But the state of California took it a step further. Around the same time of the San Francisco Police Department’s decision, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 1475 into law to prevent law enforcement agencies from posting mugshots of people arrested for nonviolent crimes on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Two other states have also taken similar action. In 2019, New York amended its open record law to ban the release of mugshots unless the main purpose is to aid law enforcement officials. In February, Utah lawmakers passed a bill to ban publishing mugshots until after conviction.

There are also several lawsuits filed against police departments for their practice of releasing mugshots, but since these photos are considered public records, rather than criminal records, winning in court can be quite difficult.

But there are some exceptions. In 2016, The United States Court of Appeals allowed the Justice Department to withhold mugshots. In 2019, former prisoners in Pennsylvania won monetary damages when a federal jury ruled that releasing mugshots violated open records law.

If you have been arrested in Miami, call Jonathan Blecher, P.A. at 305-321-3237 or fill out our online contact form today to request a free case evaluation. I have defended thousands of criminal cases since 1982!

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