postandcourier.com – 5/26/18]
Once upon a time, we named and shamed by putting the accused in stocks on the town square. Now we put them on the internet.
I am omitting the names because it is impossible to sort the innocent from the guilty. “South Carolina Hottie Bookings,” on a website called Arrests.org, isn’t troubled by such details. On this one website, there are mugshots of 1,000 women arrested in South Carolina over the past two years, many on nothing-burger charges.
Mind you, not one of them was convicted of anything when her mugshot was published. There is the 21-year-old arrested on New Year’s Eve in Charleston for public intoxication. The baby-faced 18-year-old arrested in Myrtle Beach for trying to buy beer. And the 18-year-old from Florence with the ubiquitous “charges unknown.” But no matter, it’s the “hottie’s” mugshot that matters. And there is a place for sometimes lewd comments.
Police mugshots have been around forever — it’s the internet that has changed everything. Nothing in the Constitution requires county jails around the country to post arrest mugshots online, but they do because they are public records.
This has spawned an entire industry of websites that run mugshots. Some charge hundreds or thousands of dollars to take them down. Last week, the California attorney general filed extortion and money laundering charges against four men alleged to be behind Mugshots.com.
Two years ago, the South Carolina Legislature made a good-faith effort to do something by requiring websites to delete the arrest information if the accused can show they have been cleared. The legislation has done little to nothing to slow websites, many of them offshore, or shakedown artists who prey on people desperate to salvage their reputations.
While these efforts are overdue, there is a simpler answer and it is no farther away than your local county jail. The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office just made a change that may save countless people years of grief. Other South Carolina counties should follow suit.