Websites that demand money to remove jail mugshots targeted in bill approved by Ky. House

jcheves@herald-leader.comFebruary 19, 2014 

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky House on Wednesday passed two bills to help people put their criminal records behind them.

House Bill 51 would make it a Class D felony to publish someone's jail mugshot to a website and then demand money for the photo's removal.

The sponsor, Rep. Gerald Watkins, D-Paducah, said he was targeting extortionist websites that post mugshots and charge people $400 or more to take them down.

Some victims were arrested many years ago and believed the episode was behind them, Watkins said. But to their horror, an online search of their name turns up the photo taken when they were booked into jail, he said.

If they pay one website to remove their mugshot, the photo sometimes moves to an affiliated site, and more money is demanded, he said.

As of Wednesday, for example, one commercial website that specializes in Kentucky mugshots offered "unpublishing" services that cost from $399 for one arrest and mugshot to $1,799 for five arrests and mugshots.

Watkins said HB 51 would not affect jails, news media or other entities that legitimately publish mugshots, which are public records, because they don't offer to remove the photos in exchange for money.

The House also passed House Bill 64, which would allow Kentuckians convicted of first-time Class D felonies to ask a court to expunge, or clear, their record five years after they complete their sentence if they have avoided any additional criminal charges. Prosecutors would be notified, and certain crimes involving children, the elderly or sex offenses would be ineligible for expungement, as would federal crimes.

At present, state law allows convictions to be expunged only for misdemeanors and traffic offenses.

"We are a forgiving people," Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville, said, speaking in favor of the bill. "And if somebody has paid their debt to society, then we should consider that debt paid."

John Cheves: (859) 231-3266. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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