Some lawsuits end with a bang, while others end with a mere whimper. A recent lawsuit in Arizona, resolved a few weeks ago, is a whimper case, the case could be quite significant for people who hope to shut down the industry with the help of a lawyer and make it more difficult for people to remove their mugshots using any legal grounds.
Here's what happened in this particular case.
A few years back, a man named Imran Ahmad Jamali was arrested in Arizona, and he had his photograph taken at the station. Days later, that photograph appeared on multiple mugshot websites (see the list of sites he included in his complaint by clicking here). Rather than paying each site a removal fee, he hired a lawyer and claimed that the presence of the photograph on commercial sites violated his constitutional rights.
Specifically, he claimed that the shot's use was in direct violation of the:
- Fourth amendment, as it involved unreasonable search and seizure
- Fifth amendment, as it represented the abuse of governmental authority
- Eighth amendment, as the humiliation he suffered was a form of cruel and unusual punishment
- Ninth amendment, as other rights not specifically enumerated in the constitution were also trampled by the publication of his photo
This is a long laundry list of complaints, and on the surface, the man felt he had a legitimate case and point. His image was "seized" from him by a governmental authority, and it was given to another party without his permission, and that seizure resulted in punishment for a crime he may or may not have committed. There's some legal reason to be hopeful.
However, a ruling released just a few weeks ago suggests that judges don't agree with him. According to a press release in the Digital Journal, the court in this case suggested that the plaintiff's constitutional rights weren't violated in any way. In fact, the judges felt that the case had so little merit that they even blocked the plaintiff's ability to appeal the decision to a higher court. In essence, they've killed this line of inquiry altogether. This is a pretty shocking development in the middle of what seemed like the end of the mugshot industry. This case seems to suggest that constitutional rights just don't apply when a mugshot is in play. It seems like this news should be shared with more people, so they'll know not to take this tack in their own lawsuits.
There are many other cases working their way through the courts at this very moment, and those cases also merit a close watch. In another case in Arizona, for example, the plaintiff suggests that his reputation has been "completely destroyed" by his mugshot and the media coverage that followed his arrest. Now, people think this man is a terrorist (or worse), and he thinks his publicized mugshot is to blame for the issue. This case also includes news outlets, in addition to mugshot websites, so it's a pretty comprehensive lawsuit. The results of this might be pretty interesting.
Also, in California, 10 people have joined together in one lawsuit that suggests that mugshot removal fees are akin to extortion. This lawsuit is interesting, as some of the plaintiffs are accused of sex crimes, and some mugshot websites won't remove photographs that deal with crimes of this nature, even if people agree to pay removal fees. Permanent damage like this might make an extortion charge hard to pursue, since the sites aren't really asking for money. I'll be watching this case closely.
But as much as I watch, I don't have a lot of hope that these lawsuits will end well. In general, it's been hard for many people to get their mugshots removed via legal channels. People who appear on these sites have certainly been damaged, and most people would reasonably say that a mugshot website had something to do with that damage, but the courts find it hard to place blame, due to the very nature of mugshots. Most states have laws that pertain to the documents generated by law enforcement officials.
In general, any document that comes from an arrest is considered part and parcel of an official, governmental act, and as a result, it's available to any member of the public. Laws like this are designed to allow people to monitor the work of their governmental agencies, but they can also allow nefarious business owners to grab those documents and use them in any way they wish to. Suing the owners of the sites is simply futile, as the laws protect their activities. At the moment, they can grab the photos, pop them online and charge for their removal. It might seem nasty, but it's not illegal.
That's why we continue to provide mugshot removal and reputation management services. We know that mugshot lawsuits rarely work, and we also know that mugshot website administrators will do almost anything to stay in business, including hiring high-priced lawyers that can spend hours to negate even the most reasonable legal argument. We don't think people should suffer ongoing reputation damage simply because they can't win in the courts. We'll keep fighting to make sure that doesn't happen.