Attorney seeks to stop online photos of suspects

The Associated PressOctober 22, 2012 

— A Columbia lawyer wants jails across South Carolina to stop publicly posting pictures of people who are arrested.

The pictures are being picked up by a website called mugshots.com and posting them on their own site. The site then charges people up to $399 to remove a photo, even if charges were dropped, scrubbed from someone’s record or the person was found not guilty, attorney Seth Rose said.

“They are shaming people, then extorting them with no concern about the presumption of innocence,” Rose said.

Rose, who also is a Richland County councilman, has already convinced the Richland County jail to remove photos from its website. Information like names, charges and bail amounts remain. The county also will continue to treat the jail pictures as public information and email them to media members, county spokeswoman Stephany Snowden said.

Rose is talking to attorneys and other people, trying to figure out a solution that can work statewide. At least 17 counties post pictures of inmates with online jail information. Officials in Florence and Horry counties said they post jail pictures because they are public information and have not heard any complaints.

No one answered a phone number for mugshots.com. The company refused to speak to a reporter at The Daily Gamecock, which first wrote about the issue last week.

The website does mention that it obtains the pictures from public records and said it posts them to protect democracy, citing the U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment, which guarantees the right to a speedy and public trial.

“Imagine a world with no transparency, ‘star chambers’ and citizens who are secretly dragged into investigation just to never see the light of day again. No one sees. No one hears. No one knows. It’s hard to imagine this was all not so long ago. Russia? China? North Korea? Cuba? Or even today, Guantanamo Bay, or the CIA’s `black sites’?” the website writes in its frequently asked questions section.

The website also said it will discuss removing the pictures with a lawyer as a courtesy.

Rose is representing a Charleston business owner who was recently arrested on a disorderly conduct charge for shouting obscenities after a football game. The man’s picture is on the mugshots.com website and comes up on the first page of searches on Google, along with the website for his business.

Rose would not name the business owner.

Rose expects the man will go through a pre-trial program that will eventually erase the charge from his records and permanently delete the picture for government storage. But he fears the picture will remain unless his client pays hundreds of dollars.

“To have lifelong ramifications for a charge of that sort isn’t fair,” Rose said.

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