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Bill could limit mugshots on profit-driven websites
Legislation aims to help offenders, or those cleared of crimes, erase their photos from Web
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The Georgia Senate passed a bill Wednesday seeking to curb the mugshot-for-profit publications model in the state.

As an amendment to the Fair Business Practices Act, the legislation is one of the re-entry reforms recommended by the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform.

“It is part of an effort to create an atmosphere where offenders have an opportunity to redeem themselves,” said Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, a co-sponsor of the bill.

The bill reads that, “On or before the last day of each month, a consumer reporting agency conducting business in this state shall update any criminal history record information that it has obtained to delete permanently … any such records that have been restricted; and any records showing that an individual has been exonerated and discharged.”

A “consumer reporting agency” is defined as any person or entity that assembles or evaluates criminal records for the purpose of providing consumer reports to third parties.

But it’s not clear how the bill would be enforced. Gainesville attorney Dan Summer said although he disdains the practice of publishing mugshots for profit, it may be constitutionally protected.

“Well, I’m not sure you can (enforce) it. It’s First Amendment protected,” he said.

Summer, a criminal defense attorney, said clients often have to deal with predatory tactics, including requiring a fee to take the picture off a site.

“It comes up all the time. I think it’s extortion to make these people pay to take the picture down,” he said.

Employers can use a simple Web search of a job applicant to find a site where a booking intake photo might appear. It’s an easy way to disqualify a person who may have been cleared of wrongdoing or misidentified.

“There’s hundreds of those websites, and they print the picture with no regard for the facts of the case,” Summer said. “It’s really unfortunate, you know, but it is protected by the First Amendment.”

Still, he said, any legislation to make it more difficult “is a good thing,” he said.

As it stands, he said, there isn’t much relief to protect privacy when hundreds of websites copy the pictures.
“There’s not much you can do, really,” Summer said. “I tell my folks just to ignore it.”

Other sections in the proposed legislation clarify juvenile standards and practices for offenders entering foster care after leaving Department of Juvenile Justice custody.

Hall County Juvenile Judge Cliff Jolliff said the language of the bill is likely for the purpose of meeting federal guidelines.

“The juvenile part of that — the Department of Juvenile Justice stuff and planning and reviewing by courts — likely has something to do with trying to access federal money when you are dealing with children who have been removed form their home,” he said.

Federal funds are often dependent on states meeting certain requirements. Crafting a system that emphasizes an effort to establish permanent homes for foster children often is attached to federal child welfare dollars.

In other juvenile matters, the Senate passed a bill Feb. 18 that would privatize the state’s foster care system. It is being read in the House.

The bill’s enactment is contingent upon receiving a federal waiver.