As an attorney, State Senator Paul Thurmond has defended many innocent people, including one woman who was wrongfully accused of shoplifting.
"We sued the business. We were able to recover thousands of dollars for her, because she was wrongfully accused," he says.
Thurmond, who represents the 41st District, is the sponsor of a bill that would protect the wrongfully charged from having their pictures published on the public website of a person or entity. Several such websites exist, most notably "mugshots.com". The website takes booking photos from the websites of jails and sheriff's offices and publishes them, even in the absence of a conviction. Several thousand of the featured mugshots are of residents of Charleston, Dorchester and Berkeley counties.
"A lot of these companies will basically hold somebody hostage or insist on some ransom to be paid," Thurmond says.
On mugshots.com, a client can pay several hundred dollars to have their mugshot removed from the website.
Senate bill 700, which Thurmond introduced in May, would make illegal the practice of publishing a mugshot of a person whose charges have been discharged, dismissed, or the person has been found not guilty. Such a website must remove a mug shot free-of-charge within 30 days of receiving a request in writing.
An e-mail seeking comment to mugshots.com was returned with a link to a statement, which read in part, "private publishers and other private entities are not a party to the [expunge] order and aren't compelled to act on it. Logically, once something enters the public domain it cannot possibly change status to the 'private domain'."
In order to become law, the bill must be passed by both the House and Senate and be signed by Governor Nikki Haley.