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New York For Over 25 Years

Can your mug shot come back to haunt you?

An arrest for any criminal offense – regardless of whether a person is ultimately charged, prosecuted and convicted or not – generally involves having a mug shot taken. It’s not unreasonable to be concerned about what happens to that mug shot and whether it’s out there somewhere for anyone to potentially find online.

Everyone has seen mug shots of celebrities, politicians and others taken decades ago (and some more recently). Does that mean a potential employer, partner, school, your children or someone who would like to use it to harm you can access your mug shot?

A change in the Freedom of Information Law

When he was in office, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tried to prohibit the public release of any law enforcement booking information, including mug shots. He said this was an “unwanted invasion of personal privacy.” While Gov. Cuomo didn’t get the full prohibition on the release of booking information he sought, he did reach a compromise with the state legislature to amend the New York Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) to prohibit the “disclosure of law enforcement arrest or booking photographs of an individual.”

That’s not a blanket prohibition, however. A notable exception is if releasing a mug shot to the public can “serve a specific law enforcement purpose…” For example, if police are searching for someone whom they believe committed a crime, they can release a previous mug shot to get the public’s help. This includes posting or handing out flyers. Even if they’re not guilty of the offense in question, that earlier mug shot is now out in public.

The “clean slate” law

Last year, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a “clean slate” law that mandates the sealing of most misdemeanor criminal records three years after someone has served their sentence or ended their parole (eight years for most felonies).

Of course, it’s best to avoid having a criminal record at all. An arrest doesn’t have to lead to a charge, and a charge doesn’t always lead to a prosecution. A lot of things can happen along the way. Evidence may be deemed inadmissible, for example. Having experienced legal guidance from the beginning can help you protect your rights and your future.