Texas Strikes a Blow to Mug Shot Websites

The publication of mug shots and other criminal information is nothing new, and the industry has expanded its reach to the internet. Websites that publish criminal record information purportedly do so as a public service to the community. Several websites publish criminal information to spur tips to Crime Stoppers and as a deterrent to others who might commit a crime.

On the other side stands the mug shot removal services, businesses that profit when individuals pay a fee to have their mug shot removed from one or more websites. Many complain that mug shot websites are merely a method to harass and embarrass those that have had dealings in the criminal justice system. Many claim that the mug shot removal services seek to extort money from those whose information they publish. Further, claims are made that information is posted to these website regardless of whether charges were dropped, cases were dismissed, or records expunged or sealed.

This controversy has led some state legislatures to propose bills to regulate the industry, Texas included.
New legislation (SB 1289) passed this session, amending the Texas Business & Commerce Code, taking effect September 1, 2013. The new law applies to any publication of criminal record information. The law prohibits businesses from publishing criminal record information if the business has received notice of expunction or an order of nondisclosure. It provides that a business is liable for up to $500 a day to be paid to the person whose information is published, and for an award to reasonable attorney’s fees.

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Attorney Mark A. Nacol is board certified in Civil Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization

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