Is it legal to publish arrest booking photos?
Arrest records and court filings have always been public, which means that anybody can obtain the information and publish it. For decades, newspapers across the nation, including the Austin American Statesman, have published “police blotter” stories with details skimmed from public court records.
These days, all booking photos are published online, not just celebrity mug shots. The home page of the Statesman often includes images from APD’s searchable database of arrest photos. The Statesman also hosts an entire subdomain dedicated to arrest photos.
Most cities have a small newspaper dedicated to publishing local jail photos. You can buy a copy of BUSTED! for $1 on the check-out counter of convenience stores all over Austin. Unlike traditional newspapers and magazines, BUSTED! doesn’t have many advertisements so you might wonder how they stay in business. It turns out that BUSTED! will remove your mug shot from their publication, for a hefty fee. The business model seems to rely on shaming people into paying. Frankly, this strikes me as a type of extortion but, unfortunately, it’s not illegal.
Plenty of the people subjected to this public humiliation are actually innocent. Unfortunately, many people rush to judgement so damage is done when booking photos are seen by a friend, neighbor, or co-worker.
Depending on how the case is resolved, it may be possible to obtain an expunction order to remove public records of the arrest and prosecution. The most common route to expunction eligibility is that all charges are dismissed and the period specified by the statute of limitations has elapsed.