Dunedin State Rep. Zimmermann Takes Aim at Mug Shot Websites
State Rep. Carl Zimmermann, D-Palm Harbor, wants to make websites remove mug shots of people who've been found innocent of crimes. Zimmermann got the idea after he was contacted by a woman who was once arrested.
State Rep. Carl Zimmermann is tackling some controversial issues during his first legislative session, which began Tuesday, March 5.
The freshman lawmaker wants to make websites remove mug shots of people who've been found innocent of crimes.
An email Zimmermann received from a constituent back in December prompted him to write the bill. A woman had been arrested and found innocent three years ago, but her mug shot still appeared on multiple Internet sites. Zimmermann says the woman contacted the websites requesting to have the mug shots removed, but they told her she would need to pay them a removal fee.
"It was a nightmare for her to get the mugshots off the Internet, and it was wrecking her life," said Zimmermann. "It ate away at me. … they basically extort money from people."
Internet websites like mugshots.com take booking photos, which are available as public record, from various law enforcement agency websites and then post them on their own websites. If a person who was arrested wants the mug shot removed from the website, they sometimes have to pay a removal fee to the website operators.
Zimmermann says the woman who emailed him was just about ready to pay three websites to have her mug shot removed, and then her mug shot popped up on other sites.
"When they're publishing pictures of innocent people, they're not serving anyone's best interest and are doing more harm than good," said Zimmermann.
The lawmaker's bill requires that websites remove a person's mug shot within 15 days after receiving notification from the person if he or she is acquitted, charges are dropped or resolved without a conviction. The person would not be charged a fee to have the mug shot removed. Failure to remove the mug shot would result in a $100 penalty per week, per instance. Failure to remove the mug shot after 45 days would create a presumption of defamation of character of the person appearing in the mug shot.
Zimmermann says he's received a lot of positive emails about HB 677. He's been printing them up and posting them on the wall in his Tallahassee office. "Some are really moving."
One email came from a woman who was arrested eight years ago and hasn't been able to find a job. "Everyone Googles, even McDonald's," said Zimmermann.
However, not everyone supports the bill. Zimmermann, who is a broadcast journalism teacher at Countryside High School and has a copy of the First Amendment hanging on the wall in his classroom, says he's heard from the Florida Press Association. The organization thinks the bill may infringe on First Amendment rights.
"It's very ironic the first opposition I would come across is from the Florida Press Association," said Zimmerman.
The bill is broad and unless the text is changed, it would also appear to apply to news organizations that post mug shots online and law enforcement agencies that post mug shots online.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is taking a wait and see approach about Zimmermann's bill.
"Everyone here is aware of the proposal," said Cecilia Barreda, Pinellas County Sheriff's Office Public Information Manager.
"We're waiting to see where the legislation goes," she said. "We're not really concerned about the bill at this point."
What's your take? Should mug shots of persons found innocent be removed from websites?
- Bill Aims to Keep Students, Teachers Safe from School Shootings
- Carl Zimmermann, State Rep. District 65
- The Florida Legislature Online
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