If you’ve been watching the news even sporadically in recent weeks, you’ve likely seen some mug shots you never expected to see – including one of a former president and a former New York City mayor. Mug shots are part of the criminal process that people have to submit to – whether they’re arrested for DUI, embezzlement or murder.
Regardless of whether or not they’re subsequently charged with a crime and what happens afterward, people are often nervous that their mug shot is out there somewhere to be found by a potential employer, romantic partner (or their family) or someone who would like nothing better than to hurt or at least embarrass them.
What New York law says
Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo sought to ban the public release of any law enforcement booking information. He called it an “unwanted invasion of personal privacy.”
That led to pushback from those who claimed this limited accountability by law enforcement agencies and could even lead to “secret arrests.” The state legislature and Gov. Cuomo agreed to a change in the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) that bans only the “disclosure of law enforcement arrest or booking photographs of an individual.”
Police can often get away with exceptions
The law still allows mug shots to be released publicly if they “serve a specific law enforcement purpose….” If someone is suspected of committing another crime, for example, a previous mug shot may be released to help find them if they can’t be located.
Some people argue that this caveat is broad enough that law enforcement agencies throughout the state can still post mug shots on social media, release them to the press or hand them out as they see fit – particularly when it comes to people who have been charged with drug-related offenses. One city’s police chief says, “They wrote it [the law] in such a fashion that it wasn’t overly restrictive, so I’m going to continue to do it as long as the language of the law is such that it allows me to.”
Not having a criminal record helps
If you’re able to get your charges dropped, obtain a not guilty verdict or have your record expunged, the information around your arrest should be sealed. That means the chances of your mug shot getting into the wrong hands are greatly minimized.
That’s all the more reason to work to fight any criminal charge you’re facing. Getting experienced legal guidance is a good first step.