Bill Making It Harder For Private Websites To Keep Certain Mugshots Heads To House Floor

Apr 24, 2017

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A bill making it easier for certain people to get their mugshots removed and records sealed has already passed the Florida Senate. And, after recently passing its last committee in the House, it’s now headed to the floor.

Let’s say you got arrested. But, you were either found not guilty of the crime or the charges were dropped. Today, you would have to apply to get that record sealed.

And, because most local law enforcement agencies normally put mugshots on their websites as a public record, it makes that available for private websites to do the same.

“We’re in a different world where before for a minor crime a 20-year-old with a six pack of beer or these kinds of things, it used to be it was filed away in a court somewhere. Now, on some of these mugshots sites, it affects your future and sometimes, in profound and unknown ways. I know many companies, they search these sites to see and they see mugshots. And, it can have a certain impact.”

So, Rep. Scott Plakon (R-Longwood) is filing a bill to address that.

“There’s a number of websites out there that will display a person’s mugshot even if the person was found not guilty or the charges were dropped,” he said. “Many of these sites, such as mugshot.com charge a fee to remove the photo. The bill prohibits an entity that posts such photos from soliciting a fee to remove them and requires the entity to remove a photo within ten days of receiving a written request.”

If after a 10-day period, the website does not comply with the request to remove the photo, a court can charge them one-thousand dollars per day. And, Plakon says his bill allows for lawsuits to be filed.

His bill also deals with the sealing of the records by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“Under this provision, a person is no longer required to apply for a sealing if the charges were dropped or dismissed or a not guilty verdict was entered. Instead, the FDLE will automatically seal such records when notified by the Clerk of Court of the case’s disposition.”

Rep. Danny Burgess (R-Zephyrhills) calls it a good bill.

“I didn’t realize this was necessarily an issue, until several constituents independently brought this issue up when I was elected, and I’ve heard countless horror stories about how this can uproot and overturn and just devastate your life in these circumstances because these companies, they’re everywhere, and once it’s on the internet, it spreads like wildfire,” he said. “One of those constituents…the first one who brought to it to me when I told him about your bill, his response to me when he was reading it with tears just falling down his eyes.”

And, Rep. Shawn Harrison (R-Tampa) says while he appreciates the bill, he wishes it could go a bit further.

“When these things are available on the official website of the Sheriff’s department and these companies swoop in and grab them, and publish them themselves, but if something was sealed after that….if we were to enact a policy that all of those public records that mugshots and things like that had to be removed from the official websites, then it would follow that it would be criminal act to publish them on a private website,” he said.

So far, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s office no longer puts mugshots on their website, though they are still available through request. Bill Sponsor Plakon says it’s his hope that other law enforcement agencies will follow suit.

The bill is slated to take effect in July of next year, and it’s retroactive as well. So, all the people who have experienced this problem before that date would also benefit from the bill.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.