Profiting off Humiliating Others: Mugshot.com Owners Arrested for Pay-for-Removal Scheme

It appears we have seen the last of springfieldmugshots.com.  Last month, the owners of Mugshots.com were arrested on charges of extortion, money laundering, and identity theft. The website used data from police and sheriffs’ department websites, collected names, booking photos, and charges. Then, they published the information online without the person’s consent. To add insult to injury, they charged individuals fees to get the information removed.

The company extracted more than $64,000 in removal fees from approximately 175 individuals. In California, it is illegal to charge people to remove their mugshots. The California AG noted that the “pay-for-removal scheme attempts to profit off of someone else’s humiliation. Those who can’t afford to pay into the scheme to have their information removed pay the price when they look for a job, housing, or try to build relationships with others.”

Missouri Law Criminalizes Pay-for-Removal Schemes

In Missouri, it is a class A misdemeanor for a mugshot website to solicit or accept payment to remove criminal record information and is punishable by up to one year in jail. Each payment solicited or accepted constitutes a separate violation. Additionally, the mugshot website is liable to the subject individual for a loss or harm. The subject individual may be awarded $10,000, or actual and punitive damages. The subject individual only needs to show that he or she was humiliated or embarrassed.

It will be interesting to see if Missouri uses its Pay-for-Removal law to go after mugshot websites. Given the trends noted above, we expect to start seeing more Pay-for-Removal charges. So long springfieldmugshots.com!

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Criminalizing “Revenge Porn”: Attorney Adam Woody Discusses the New Missouri Statute

On Governor Greitens’ last day in office, he signed House Bill 1558 into law, which creates the felony offense of nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images. Prior to Greitens’ approval, the Missouri legislature approved the bill banning “revenge porn” unanimously.

Missouri joins 38 states and the District of Columbia in outlawing revenge porn. Missouri Senator Gary Romine, the sponsor of the legislation in the upper chamber, says that the new law “provides prosecutors an opportunity to protect the victim, those that have had photographs taken of them while in an intimate personal relationship, and then have fallen apart and used against them at a later date.”

Under the new law, sharing private sexual images without consent constitutes a felony carrying the possibility of two to seven years in jail. Even threatening to do so is a Class E felony, carrying a range of punishment from one to four years in jail. An “intimate image” is an image that a reasonable person would understand as private.

Without this law, the only criminal protection for the victim would be that the assailant could be charged with invasion of privacy, which required the original photo to be taken without the other party’s consent. Greitens was charged with felony invasion of privacy, but the case was ultimately dismissed. Greitens can never be charged under the new “Revenge Porn” statute because it cannot be applied to conduct that occurred before the law was enacted.

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No Intent to Kill: The Recent Trend of Overdose Prosecutions

One of the best-selling music artists of all time, Prince, recently died after taking fake Vicodin laced with fentanyl. An icon of artistry and individuality, Prince’s opioid-related death sent shock waves across the world. Charges were not filed in relation to his death because law enforcement could not determine who provided Prince with the drugs. Prosecutors across the nation are adding “overdose prosecutions” into their arsenal to combat the rise of overdose deaths.

Across the Country, Overdose Deaths Are Mounting.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) reported that in 2016, drug overdoses killed 63,632 Americans. CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat notes that, “No area of the United States is exempt from this epidemic—we all know a friend, family member, or loved one devastated by opioids.” See here.

In Southwest Missouri, Overdose Deaths Are Skyrocketing.

Greene County, Missouri has one of the highest rates of death due to opioid overdoses in the state. The numbers are staggering: the opioid-involved mortality rate is 11.98 per 100,000. Just miles away, in Christian County, the numbers drop to half of Greene County’s rate, at 6.82 per 100,000. But this still places Christian County in one of the at-risk categories for high opioid mortality rates. See here.

Prosecutors Are Filing Charges to Hold Someone Criminally Responsible.

In West Virginia, a woman woke up after a day of drug use to find her girlfriend’s lips blue and her body limp. In Florida, a man and his girlfriend bought what they thought was heroin, but turned out to be fentanyl, which was more potent. She overdosed and died. In Minnesota, a woman who shared a fentanyl patch with her finance woke up after an overdose to find that he had not survived.

All were charged with murder. So-called “overdose prosecutions” are controversial because none of the survivors intended to cause a death. Nonetheless, such cases are becoming increasingly common.

There are two basic options for prosecuting these cases. First is the use of the existing statutory structure, which is often referred to as the “felony murder rule.” A felony murder statute allows the prosecutor to charge an offense which requires no specific mental state other than that required for the enumerated offense. Here, all that the prosecution needs to prove is that the person committed a drug transaction and a death resulted from the use of the drugs transacted. Case closed. Murder conviction sealed.

Second, state legislatures can create a specific offense of death resulting from the distribution of controlled substances. These statutes are crafted as stand-alone felonies rather than being included into existing murder or other statutes. New Hampshire and New Jersey both adopted such “drug-induced homicide” statutes and define the offense as being one of strict liability. Pennsylvania’s statute applies to any controlled substance and provides that delivery must be intentional. Delaware has imposed a minimum weight to trigger the application of the statute.

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It remains to be seen how the changes across the country are going to effect prosecutions here in Missouri.  Given the trends noted above, we expect to start seeing more murder charges for those who deal drugs in the future.  It will be interesting to see if there is any deterrent effect as a result…stay tuned!