S. 255 – Mug Shot Extortion & Expungement Relief

On February 16, 2016, Governor Haley signed into law S. 255, a bill sponsored by Senator Paul Thurmond (R). The bill – sometimes  referred to as the “Mug Shot Extortion Bill” – is designed to address businesses that make money from publishing mug shots and arrest records. In addition, S. 255 makes important changes to South Carolina’s expungement laws.

Mug Shots

Print magazines such as Carolina Mugshots and Mugshot Magazine, along with websites such as www.mugshots.com, show the “mug shot” photos and arrest record details of recently arrested individuals. In addition to selling ads, the businesses behind these publications make money by charging hefty fees to have photos and records removed – in many cases, even if charges are dropped or the arrested person is found not guilty. In the spirit of a justice system founded on “innocent until proven guilty”, S. 255 prohibits these companies from charging individuals not actually convicted of a crime to have their mug shot and arrest record removed.


Mug shot extortion can be big $$$

In order to take advantage of this new law, a person is required to:

  • Make a request to the company in writing and send the request by certified mail;
  • Includes their name, date of arrest, and the name of the arresting law enforcement agency;
  • Send copies of certified documents, such as a disposition sheet, that show the charges have been dismissed;
  • Include the URL or other information about where such arrest and booking records are located in the company’s publication.

Once the information above is received, the publisher has 30 days to remove the mug shot and arrest record, free of charge. In addition, individuals who plead to a lesser or different charge can submit their information and publishers are required to correct the information, at no cost, within 30 days. To enforce the new protections, the law also provides both criminal and civil penalties for companies that do not comply with the new regulations.

Note: Traditional print and online news providers are exempt under this law.

Expungement and other criminal record relief:

An expungement is a court order that allows for records of certain offenses to be sealed or destroyed. S. 255 expands expungement relief to include individuals with previously ineligible criminal records, such as convictions for wildlife offenses and dismissed driving charges, or charges where a person was not fingerprinted.

Under the new law, convictions of wildlife offenses are now eligible for an expungement under the same criteria as most other offenses. To be eligible, the offense must be a first offense conviction with a penalty of no more than 30 days in jail and/or a fine of $1000. Additionally, driving charges, for the first time, are now eligible for expungements, if the charges were dismissed.

In the past, if a person was charged with a crime and fingerprinted by the authorities, the court would automatically issue an expungement order – at no cost – if the criminal charges were dismissed. However, if the person was not fingerprinted when they were charged – as in the case of most traffic violations – these charges were not eligible for expungement. Now, when the new law takes effect, individuals will be able to apply for an expungement – at no cost – even if they were not fingerprinted when they were charged.

Finally, one of the important features of the new is that it applies retroactively. Applications will be available for expungements covered under the new law on May 16th 2016.