Why is my mugshot online after my case was dismissed?
In Texas, after your case is dismissed, your mugshot and other details of the arrest still appear online because the court records and other data relating to the arrest are still public records.
What can be done about the public records?
Public records of a dismissed case can be destroyed by a process called “expunction” and there are laws prohibiting websites from publishing expunged records. Most dismissed cases are only eligible for expunction after a waiting period that is specified in the statute of limitations. The period is two years for misdemeanors and three years for most felonies.
Unfortunately, the time between the filing of formal charges and the final dismissal is not counted against the limitations period.
What can be done before expunction eligibility?
Some websites charge a hefty fee to remove your mugshot but these fees can add up quickly.
For most people, a better option is to “bury” the mugshot by moving it lower in the search results. With a bit of work, it is possible to hide your mugshot behind virtual stacks of relevant data. Most people will not look past the first page or two of search results, especially when there is interesting content on those first few pages.
How can I hide the mugshot?
You can start by making sure that your full name, rather than a nickname, appears on all your social media and other online profiles.
The next step is to register multiple other online accounts and post relevant content about yourself. Upload photos, share recipes, post comments, and generally provide as much demographic information as possible. If possible, use your full name as your screen name and find opportunities to link the new account with your existing accounts. Here are some ideas for registering online user accounts:
- Google place reviews
- Local newspaper comments section
- Message boards relevant to your career, hobbies, or local sports team
- Rotten Tomatoes
- Stack Exchange
- Snopes.com (message board section)
- Yahoo! Answers
Warning: Do NOT post content that might embarrass or harm you in other ways if it ends up in the hands of someone unexpected (like your boss or the opposing party in a civil lawsuit) and try to keep your comments focused on non-controversial topics because it is possible they will be around for decades.
Be sure to use the private or “incognito” mode in your web browser when searching for your own name. Some search engines customize the results page to elevate pages you’ve previously viewed, which can make it seem like you are not making any progress in your efforts to hide the mugshot. When you search in private mode, the displayed results will be similar to what other people in your geographic area will see, without the historical data.
Local charities and political candidates often have a web page with a list of supporters. You may be able to get your name on these lists with a small donation, especially in elections for minor offices like Precinct Constable or School Board. These donations can be a good investment because the best search engines prioritize local websites in their search results.
A few mugshot websites allow people to “opt out” of having their information displayed. It is worth taking a few minutes to explore a website that has published your arrest data in order to determine if this option is available to you.
What about the seven-year rule?
Until they are expunged, mugshots from dismissed cases can appear online forever. Most mugshot websites do not meet the legal definition of a Consumer Reporting Agency and are not subject to the seven-year-limit required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act.