A Florida State University law student is working with lawmakers to challenge Florida’s ecosystem of online mug shot companies.
Blake Mathesie, a second-year law student, first met with Rep. Jason Fischer of Jacksonville nearly a year ago to suggest legislation that would prohibit private mugshot websites from further profiting off someone’s mug shot.
On Monday, the pair stood together as the House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee advanced the bill unanimously.
“The publication of these mug shots not only violates due process, but it hurts the personal and professional prospects of those affected,” Mathesie told members. “A mug shot is taken at the lowest point in someone’s life.”
Mathesie’s low point came in 2018. Then an undergraduate at the University of Florida, authorities charged the 23-year-old with felony battery charges after he broke up a bar fight at work.
The court later dismissed the charges and the judge released a nine-page opinion criticizing the arresting agency’s police work.
“This Court did not find the victim’s testimony credible,” the opinion adds. “The defendant did nothing to the victim, and only involved himself when security failed to appear, and the patrons began to stumble.”
But while the criminal case is in the past, a collection of booking photos posted by mug shot websites remain in the present.
“That mug shot now continues to haunt me and has been brought up in job interviews for something that I was completely innocent for,” Mathesie said.
Currently, state law prohibits private mug shot companies from charging a fee to remove booking photographs.
Speaking to members, Fischer explained the websites now use bots to fish for mug shots and then collect ad revenue from web traffic.
Fischer’s proposal (HB 755) would require a mug shot website to take a photo down if requested by the person whose booking photograph is published.
Thereafter, the publisher must remove the photo in 10 days or face a $1,000 per day noncompliance penalty.
“People deserve a second chance,” Fisher said.
Democrat Rep. Patricia Williams of Lauderdale Lakes voted to pass the bill in committee.
She noted that mug shots are often a barrier to employment and said the issue impacts minority communities disproportionately.
“In the spirit of law, black and brown people live on a different side of the world,” Williams said. “We live on the side of a world where you are guilty until proven innocent, so any mug shot that’s taken always follows us.”
Fischer’s proposal will appear next before the House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee and House Judiciary Committee.
A companion bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Aaron Bean, is also moving in the Senate.
If signed into law, the proposals would take effect Oct. 1.