Mugshot Extortion Ends in South Carolina

Earlier this year, South Carolina passed what has been called the “mugshot extortion bill” into law, which makes it a crime for individuals or companies to publish information about a person’s arrest and then charge fees to remove the information.  The law is found in S.C. Code Section 17-1-60. 

For some time, websites such as mugshots.com and print magazines such as Carolina Mugshots have been extorting money from people who were arrested and booked even when the person’s case was dismissed or they were found not guilty.  No more.

The new law makes it a crime, punishable by up to a $1000.00 fine and up to 60 days in jail, to:

  • obtain or attempt to obtain arrest and booking records, including booking photographs, when they know that the records will be published and removal of the records will require payment of a fee;
  • require a person to pay a fee to remove or to refrain from publishing the person’s arrest and booking information and photograph; or
  • provide arrest and booking records, if you are a government employee, to an individual or company if the government employee knows that the information will be published and a fee charged for its removal.

The law authorizes a civil cause of action against anyone who violates the law for damages, costs, and attorney fees.  It also authorizes suit against a government employee (but not the government agency) under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act.  A separate non-criminal section of the law provides that any person or company who does publish a person’s arrest and booking information or booking photos must remove the information without charging a fee within 30 days of a written request which:

  • is made in writing and sent via certified mail;
  • includes the person’s name, date of arrest, and the name of the arresting agency;
  • contains documentation that the charges were dismissed, expunged, or the person was found not guilty; and
  • includes the exact location of the published information that the person wants removed (i.e. web address, magazine).

Basically, if the individual or company is charging a fee for the removal of the information, it is a crime punishable by jail time and the law authorizes a civil suit.  Even if the individual or company is not charging a fee, the law authorizes a civil suit if they do not remove or correct the information after a formal request that contains the above information.

Having a criminal record of any kind can cause embarrassment to any person and it can profoundly affect a person’s life by preventing job opportunities.  Not having a criminal record and having some company attempt to blackmail you to remove inaccurate information and your photograph from their website is even worse.  If you think that one of these companies is in violation of the above law, or if you need assistance getting your official record expunged or getting one of these companies to remove your information, contact me to see if I can help.

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