Legislator Says People Who See Charges Dropped Or Are Acquitted Are Forced To Pay Pricey Fee For Mugshot Removal
Proposes New County Law To Tighten Rules On Mugshot Use
New City, NY (Sept. 15, 2017) – Rockland County Legislator Aron B. Wieder is proposing a new County law that would tighten rules on how mugshots of people who are arrested can be used.
Additionally, he is backing a resolution in support of proposed state rules that would ban the release of mugshots until there is a conviction. The proposal allows for some law enforcement exceptions.
“Thousands of people are arrested in this state and in this country every year,” Legislator Wieder said. “Many see their charges dropped or are found innocent, but that doesn’t matter to the predatory websites that post these mugshots and refuse to take them down unless a fee – sometimes in the hundreds or thousands of dollars – is paid.”
Numerous companies have sprung up that use the controversial business model, tapping into the power of Freedom of Information Laws to obtain the photos and accompanying information such as name, address and charges. The companies, devoted solely to showcasing mugshots, will only remove the photos after a fee has been paid. They also do not update the charges to indicate if they have been dropped or the person has been acquitted.
“This is wrong and extremely unfair,” Wieder said. “It can hurt a person’s chance at getting a job or promotion or otherwise ruin their reputation even though the charges were dropped or the person is found innocent.”
Wieder’s proposed new County law, the Mugshot Privacy Act, would prohibit local law enforcement from providing mugshots without a statement from the person requesting the photo affirming that it will not be placed in a publication or posted to a website that charges a fee for removal in the event of a dismissal or non-criminal disposition of a case.
If the person who submits the affirmation tries to charge a fee, they will be subject to criminal liability under state Penal Law.
If a member or employee of law enforcement violates the provisions requiring the affirmation prior to release of the mugshot, they will face a civil fine of $5,000 per violation.
Wieder is also sponsoring a resolution calling on the State Legislature to pass state Senate Bill 5029 and Assembly Bill 838, which amends the State’s criminal procedure law to ban the release of mugshots until there is a conviction.
The bill allows for three exceptions. A mugshot could be released to a person or agency performing a criminal justice function; pursuant to a court order; or to the arrested person or defendant. Law enforcement could also release a mugshot to a newspaper to aid in the arrest or apprehension of a wanted person.
The latest statistics show a significant number of people arrested in New York state see their charges dismissed or reduced, are acquitted, or see the District Attorney’s Office decline to prosecute, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services:
- Of 141,419 felony case dispositions in 2016, 29.6 percent were diverted or dismissed, including those with or without conditions; ended in acquittals; or saw the District Attorney’s Office decline to prosecute.
- Of 39,326 violent felony dispositions, 42.8 percent fell into those categories.
- Of 24,816 drug felony dispositions, 20.1 percent fell into those categories.
- Of 314,904 misdemeanor dispositions, 41.9 percent fell into those categories.
Nationwide, there is a growing trend toward tightening the use of mugshots, with 14 states banning websites from charging fees for removing mugshots or otherwise regulating the sites, and legislation is pending in six states, in addition to New York, according to the County Legislature’s Legal Counsel.
Both proposals were passed by a vote of 5-0 Wednesday by the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee, which Wieder chairs. They go before the full LegislatureTuesday.