Ohio lawsuit stops websites from charging to remove mugshots

A settlement in a federal lawsuit in Ohio means two websites can no longer charge people to remove mugshots from the sites, according to the Associated Press.

Not all mugshot sites are bound by the settlement. Only BustedMugshots.com and MugshotsOnline.com were named in the suit.

The AP reports that a number of states have similar lawsuits pending but:

efforts to rein in the sites have been complicated by questions about whether the attempts infringe on First Amendment rights and the difficulty of tracking down who owns the sites, some of which claim to originate from outside the country.

Some operators say they’re performing a public service by providing information about arrest records that can be found by parents and neighbors without searching through court records.

Attorneys in the case say removing the companies’ ability to more or less extort people to have the photos taken down will “make it difficult for them to operate.”

By way of an extended footnote, you have no such sites to worry about from the police and courts of Gallatin County, where County Attorney Marty Lambert has decided that mugshots are not public information, so they are not published anywhere.

So any photos of accused people you see in the Chronicle or online are those we have taken ourselves in court. And, no, we do not go and take photos of them all. Some court dealings — most, in fact — don’t merit that level of news attention.

Other counties in Montana operate differently. As Lambert explained to us last year, a court case gave  county attorneys leeway to decide about mugshots. So far, we have not pressed Lambert further on the matter.

Part of the reason for that, I think, comes from an observation the former city editor made to me once when we were considering whether we could publish a parade of mugshots — as other state papers do.

That editor, Dan Person, pointed out that mugshots are taken of all people who are arrested, regardless of the details of their cases. That means that everyone arrested and later convicted of a crime has had their mugshot taken. It also means that everyone arrested and later found innocent has also had their mugshot taken. People whose cases have been dismissed also have mugshots.

Person worried, rightfully I now think, that posting mugshots of all these people insinuated their guilt when they were merely accused.

It is one thing, in other words, to take a photo of someone appearing in court in a case we are covering. It is another blanket publish all mugshots of all people arrested in a county.

Perhaps you think that reasoning is flawed, though. I’d love to hear about it in the comments.