Mug Shots Bill Moves Forward

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A bipartisan committee at the statehouse has moved forward a bill to make it easier to remove people’s mug shots from commercial websites if they were never convicted of the crime for which they were arrested. 

Supporters of House Bill 1047 say it’s wrong for businesses to post mug shots and force people to pay to take them down.

“The photographs are scraped from law enforcement sites and put on commercial websites,” said the bill’s sponsor, Representative KC Becker (D-Boulder). “Then they’re search optimized so if you Google someone’s name it’s one of the first things that comes up.”

Becker says the mug shots carry a stigma and can impact people for years.

“It affects many innocent people, people who’ve never been convicted of a crime,” said Becker. “People draw conclusions and some people have trouble getting, a job, signing a lease. One woman in another state even testified that she is impacted her ability to get a date.”

The bill would allow people who are innocent, never charged with a crime, or have sealed cases to get their mug shots removed for free. The American Civil Liberties Union was the only group testifying against the bill.

“Websites have the right to commercial speech even if we find it distasteful,” said Denise Maes with the ACLU. “It is a public record, and for that reason it’s protected speech.”

Mae also told lawmakers that the measure is unfair because it exempts the media and other types of organizations from the same restrictions.

“If they had one of your mug shots and put it on a website and did it for political speech, it would be safe harbor,” said Maes. “So there’s a distinction for people using it for commercial gain.”

The Colorado Attorney General’s office is neutral on the measure, but Deputy Attorney General David Blake thinks the Attorney General could defend the law if passed.

“Reasonable minds can disagree about what the scope of the Constitutional rights are,” said Blake. But he notes that people who are arrested don’t have a right to privacy.

“There’s no privacy right about what you do in public,” Blake continues. “There’s no misrepresentation here, it’s your arrest photo.”

The ACLU said it would support the bill if mug shots were no longer public records, but advocates for the press would oppose such a change. In the end the committee voted to send the measure to the full house floor. Only two Republicans voted against it.

Similar mug shot restriction laws have passed in other states such as Texas, Georgia and Oregon.