Imagine you apply for the job of your dreams. Your resume and hair were perfect for the interview, your inflection was confident, and you know you answered every question correctly. The phone rings, you excitedly panic and run to answer it only to hear a voice you have never heard before telling you that unfortunately you were not qualified for the position—but you know you are more than qualified. Your 7-year-old son decides to type your name into an internet search on his tablet and begins crying because the first thing he sees is his mom or dad’s mugshot. You think to yourself, “but I wasn’t even found guilty of that crime” or “it has been 15 years since that happened and I’ve completely changed my life since then, I was only a kid.” However, explaining that to your would-be employer is no longer an option and now you have to find a way to explain to your child things they have no business knowing and are not capable of fully understanding.
For many, it is a shock when they realize their mugshot and criminal justice information is the first thing that appears when their name is searched on the internet. Usually, it is not the person affected that sees the mugshot for the first time. It is a potential employer, family, friends, neighbors or a young child, innocent to the fact that their parents—who they perceive as perfect—are actually real people that make mistakes. This is a reality for many Americans and has become rampant. For some, they have never been convicted of a crime. For others, a long period of time has passed, and they have become productive contributing members of society, yet they are kept from seeking true redemption by greedy mugshot website companies exploiting their past for profit from ad revenues and/or extortion.
An article published in 2015 by the Brenan Center for Justice revealed that by the age of 23, nearly 1 of every 3 people will have been arrested. This number is climbing. According to the National Reentry Resource Center, studies affirm that criminal justice records create substantial blockades for those attempting to reintegrate into society from finding employment, housing, and building an efficacious life. Abuse of these records by profiteers’ cuts against popular efforts for criminal justice reform and rehabilitation of those who have made mistakes in their pasts. Mugshot companies have wide sweeping negative effects on, not only those directly impacted but, the community as a whole.
Judging from recent expressed outrage toward mugshot website companies, many are united in the belief that cutting the legs from members of society, that are working toward a second chance, by refusing to allow them to keep their past in the past, only to turn a profit, offers no societal benefit. However, proponents to newly emerging mugshot laws cry out that they are merely bringing news to the public. There are unquestionably public safety benefits to publishing ongoing criminal activity along with an alleged perpetrator’s information. However, it has yet been shown how publishing a person’s mugshot who has been found innocent, or who has been found guilty but gone long without any further criminal activity, and otherwise leading a successful life, confers any benefit to society.
While many states have taken a legal swing at mugshot companies, they have only marginally succeeded in making a meaningful impact. Personally being impacted by mugshot companies myself, I came to Craig Rosenstein, of the Rosenstein Law Group, with ideas of how and what to take from other state’s attempts to craft a bill that would have a meaningful impact, protecting Arizonans from this exploitation and extortion. He introduced me to the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, and I immediately became a member. Then, as a member of the AACJ Legislative Committee, we introduced the bill to Rep. Kevin Payne, R-Peoria. Payne immediately expressed his glowing support and agreed to run what would become HB2191. While there were minor roadblocks, we were able to pass the bill with unanimous support from both chambers of the legislature.
On April 1, 2019, Arizona House Bill 2191 was signed by Gov. Doug Ducey. On August 27, 2019, HB2191 became effective law as Arizona Revised Statute §§ 44-7901, 7902. The new law defines mugshot website companies as “mugshot website operators” and outlaws their operation for commercial purposes. The law has a subsection that establishes a nexus between out of state mugshot companies and the Arizona citizens they are exploiting. The law also prescribes hefty damages that mugshot website companies will have to pay to those affected if they do not comply with the law, between $100 and $500 per day the company breaks the law.
While the effectiveness of the new law is yet to be seen, Mr. Rosenstein, past president and dedicated member of the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, has agreed to take these companies on. I am a proud team member of the Rosenstein Law Group and will also be working alongside the rest of the team to help protect Arizonans from these mugshot extortionists.
Steven Scharboneau is a recent law school graduate, a law clerk at Rosenstein Law Group and a committee member of the legislative committee for the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice.