When people in Virginia are charged but not yet convicted of a crime, their mugshots may still appear online. These might stay online even if the person is later found innocent or for years after people have completed sentences and moved on with their lives. However, some news organizations are making the decision to stop posting these.
In a move applauded by law enforcement, defense attorneys and readers, the Houston Chronicle announced its intention to stop using mugshots to generate page views in January. It joins several other news organizations that have made similar decisions. Among them are the Biloxi Sun Herald in Mississippi and the New Haven Independent in Connecticut. The latter also does not use names when it reports on people who are taken into custody while the former has also stopped reporting every low-level incident.
In 2016, the Fusion Channel on Univision surveyed more than 70 papers and found that 40% used mugshot galleries. It is unclear whether this number has fallen, but some advocates say these galleries can have a number of negative consequences. They encourage negative stereotypes about minorities and may affect people’s ability to get employment. Although the practice is legal, some people who work in journalism, law enforcement and criminal justice do not believe it is ethical.
When a person is charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, an attorney may look at whether the person’s rights have been violated in any way. While putting mugshots online generally does not violate the law, there are types of coverage that could affect a person’s ability to get a fair trial in some cases. An attorney might also look at whether a person’s confession was coerced, if eyewitness accounts are reliable, if forensic evidence was handled correctly and if search and seizures were conducted legally.