Mugshot Shaming & Facebook

A news article from CBS 6 News reports that the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia has decided to post weekly mugshots of people arrested on DUI charges on their Facebook page. Every Thursday they put the mugshots together into a video that gets thousands of views.

The sheriff told CBS 6 that while deputies aren’t making the arrests, they’re hoping the videos will make a difference.

“It’s a community issue,” he said, and pointed out that DUI infractions are on the rise.

Over the past seven days, 22 people in Chesterfield were charged with DUI.

“So we wanted to do our part, in conjuction with the police department, who do a good job making the arrests, and seeing if we couldn’t help deter somebody from getting in that car when they’ve had too much to drink,” said Sheriff Karl Leonard.

Additionally, the Chesterfield Sheriff’s Office wants to remind viewers that everyone you see here is innocent until proven guilty in court.

My opinion? Often, clients facing criminal charges ask me whether they can sue the Bellingham Herald – or anyone else, for that matter – on claims of slander and/or libel for posting their arrest on the Herald’s weekly jail reports.

Unfortunately, the typical answer is “No.” Under the common law, proving slander and libel require a finding that the information distributed to the public is untrue. Here, the fact that someone was arrested is, in fact, true. Therefore, that information can be reported. Additionally, news media outlets reporting this information provide the caveat to viewers that arrested individuals are innocent until proven guilty in court. Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office has done this as well.

Still, social media is used by everyone. Who among us wants their arrest information posted on Facebook? The information is a scarlet letter. It’s embarrassing. Worst-case scenario,  people may lose employment opportunities and come under scrutiny from their peers, family and friends from the posting of this highly personal information on Facebook.

On a positive note, posting people’s mugshots on Facebook could reveal whether police are racially profiling DUI defendants. Watch the video. Notice how 99.9% of Chesterfield County’s DUI offenders are Hispanic or African American? This, in a county where census data information reveals that 70% of Chesterfield County’s population is 70% Caucasian?

Interesting. Stay tuned . . .