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It's About Time: Florida Legislature Proposes Reform on Mugshot Websites

Florida lawmakers are attempting to pass new legislation aimed at targeting companies that post mugshots on their websites. These companies take booking information and mug shots from law enforcement agencies and then post the information on their websites. At this time, the websites will take down this information and photos, for a price. One of the more popular sites, mugshots.com, charges a fee of $399 for the first arrest, and $1,799 for five arrests. This becomes problematic when clients hire attorneys to have their record sealed or expunged.

An attorney is paid to complete the sealing or expungement process that can take up to eight months, and then once completed, these companies require an additional fee to have the mugshot and booking information taken down. This could all be coming to an end if this proposed legislation is put into law. Under the proposed law, websites which post booking information could be required to remove such information under a court order; those that do not follow the order could face a $1,000-a-day fine if the order is not followed within 14 days. Proponents of the proposed law say that with its passing, this law could end the extortion practiced by these companies, arguing that these companies abuse their ability to post public information on private sites, only allowing it to be removed after an individual pays the required, excessive fee. This practice would be essentially ended with the passing of the proposed legislation.

Currently, this proposed law is still in the stage of being drafted, but even so, it has not failed to stir up controversy. Supporters of the law say that passing the law will allow individuals to get the full benefit of a court-ordered expunction/sealing. This means that once the process is completed under the proposed law, arrest records would be sealed or expunged not only from law enforcement and court records, but mugshot websites like mugshots.com would also be required to comply with the court-order.

Once the legislation is finalized, two very strong points could be raised against it. One being the First Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees the right of free speech. If such a law passes, would it restrict the right of these mugshot companies to publish information that is already available to the public? If so, these companies could have a very strong argument against the passing of this proposed law.

There could also be a debate when it comes to balancing an individual's right under Florida Statute to have a sealing or expunction with the right of the public to know about a person's criminal history. Under the current process, if a Court grants a sealing or expunction, the public is unable to find information regarding a person's sealed or expunged arrest. How does this process balance with the public, or a potential employer's right to know whether or not a person has ever been in trouble with the law before? Some say that run-ins with the law should be public knowledge, so potential employers or interested parties are able to make informed decisions and have holistic perceptions of a person's background. Of course, if this proposed legislation does not pass, sealed or expunged information would still not be viewable on public background searches, but could be viewed if interested parties were to "Google" or search mugshot websites specifically.

When a client seeks information regarding sealing or expunction, the process enters a gray area when the subject of mugshots inevitably comes up. In many cases, clients who are familiar with the process of sealing and expunction are more concerned with having their mugshots removed than they are their actual arrest record. In this day and age of technology, a simple Google search can be just as informative as an official background search through a law enforcement agency, and on top of that, it's absolutely free. Potential employers and interested parties are well aware of this fact, making the current process of sealing or expunging your less effective than it once was. If this proposed law is drafted and passes, clients who seal or expunge their records will have the added benefit of knowing that not only has their arrest information been removed from law enforcement, it has been court ordered to be removed from any private mugshot websites as well.

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