Arizona joins fight against mugshot website companies


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.

Steven Scharboneau
Steven Scharboneau

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. 

Proposed restriction on use of mugshots moves step closer to law


State lawmakers are moving to make it illegal to publish someone’s publicly available booking photos on the internet for commercial purposes.

But it won’t keep anyone with a computer or cell phone from searching for – and finding – embarrassing criminal information, which appears to be the goal of the main proponent. And what’s worse, according to Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, is that HB 2191 appears to start the state down the trail of making it illegal for some people to publish something that’s already publicly available.

HB 2191, approved Wednesday by the Senate Committee on Transportation and Public Safety is being pushed by Steve Scharboneau, a 32-year-old who told lawmakers of being affected by having his arrest when he was 18 show up on web sites that are in the business of publishing them.

“When I was 17, I was a bit of a knucklehead and did some things I shouldn’t have done,” he said, resulting in his arrest shortly after he turned 18. He provided lawmakers with no details.

What made the issue personal, Scharboneau said, was his 7-year-old nephew putting his name into a search engine.

“And the first thing that pops up on top of Google is my mug shot and criminal justice information,” he said.

“I understand that I did something that I have to pay for, and I did pay for it,” Scharboneau said, saying he now is in his last year of law school.

The measure which now goes to the full Senate says that makes it illegal to publishe criminal justice records on a publicly available web site for commercial purposes. That is specifically defined to include, but not limited to, requiring payment of a fee to remove or revise the information.

It allows anyone whose information is published this way and who is “adversely affected” to sue to recover any actual damages, along with penalties of $100 per day for the first 30 days of the violation, $200 daily for the next 30 days and $500 a day for anything after that.

“I abhor what people are doing on the Internet,” Farnsworth said. But he questioned whether this is the correct approach to the problem.

The key, said Farnsworth, is that the information being used by these sites comes from public records. More to the point, he said, anyone already has access to that information now.

And he rejected Scharboneau’s contention that people are powerless to act when the information is inaccurate – not a claim Scharboneau is making – citing libel laws.

Farnsworth also said that extortion laws cover situations where the operator of a web site demands money to remove information.

“Now we’re saying that publicly accessible information is now going to be punishable if you regurgitate that information,” he said.

“Nobody’s doing anything wrong getting the information,” Farnsworth said. “But now we’re going to say that you can’t use it.”

The legislation is crafted to exempt the news media from the prohibition on publishing the information or mug shots. But Farnsworth said that doesn’t make the bill better. In fact, he argued, it may actually make it worse.

“You have an inconsistency here,” he said, based on how someone is using the information.

“So it’s OK for that to be a commercial enterprise where they use the information and their name,” Farnsworth said. “But it’s not OK in a different commercial enterprise.”

Despite his concerns, Farnsworth voted for the bill in committee to allow it to go to the full Senate with a 7-0 vote.