American Morning

Tune in at 6am Eastern for all the news you need to start your day.
May 5th, 2009
10:43 AM ET

More people smiling for mug shots

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption= "Carol Costello says some newspapers are publishing arrest photos - and it's paying off."]

From CNN's Bob Ruff

There was a time when a mug shot was, well, just a mug shot.

Remember the Watergate arrestees? H.R. Haldeman was Richard Nixon’s chief of staff. He was arrested for, and later convicted of, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Haldeman’s mug shot was typical of the times. His pose was expressionless and the photo was fairly grainy and totally unremarkable.

The chances of anyone actually seeing a mug shot back then were pretty slim, unless the arrested person was famous, or infamous, and authorities passed on the photo to the newspapers or TV.

And today? Welcome to the wide world of mug shots.

Topping the list may well be, the web site of the St. Petersburg Times. At any given moment they show online the mug shots of latest three people booked in the four counties in the Tampa Bay area. “As this technology has emerged,” says Hillsborough County, Florida Lieutenant Jim Previtera, “when a crime occurs they’re pretty quick to want to get the mug shot and they’ve been able to do it off our public web site.”

And Tampa is not alone. From Chicago to New York and across the nation it’s easy to see who has been arrested in your area–and you can look up the charges.

Why do so many people care? Previtera thinks it draws the same type of people who slow down in their cars to watch an accident or a police activity. “I guess we all have some curiosity,” he says, “and the Internet has made it a lot easier for people to go online and see who you might know that’s been arrested.”

And as more and more police photos show up, an interesting phenomenon has developed. People are actually smiling in their mug shots. Why?

Defense attorney John Trevena, who advertises on the Tampa Bay mug shot page, says people who smile do so for a variety of reasons. Some are nervous, some are drunk, others are laughing at something the photographer says. But he’s seen a trend that still others are drawn by the attention they get by knowing their photos will be seen on the Internet.

We tracked down two people who smiled during their booking. (Note that anyone photographed in police booking is innocent until proven guilty.)

Shannon Nicole Hulton was arrested for drunk driving earlier this year. She says she “knew that so many people were going to see this picture, so I don’t want a really gruesome picture of me where everybody knows the situation.” She adds that this is a “horrible invasion of privacy...and it makes me uncomfortable and sad.”

Derek Wilds was arrested for driving without a license. “Even in the most negative situation of being in a booking photo,” he told CNN, “you have to be positive about it... make the best of a bad situation.”

But watch out, says Trevena. “If you have a photo of a person with a toothy grin after just being arrested for a very serious crime, jurors might find that somewhat offensive, and find that the person is looking at it in kind of a dismissive way.”

Filed under: American Morning
soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. Josh

    I smiled in mine last night, just because I was trying to make the lady who was booking me laugh. I did. The point is, who cares, its a mugshot, so you got arrested, its normally pretty entertaining. What I'm doing is trying to find all my mug shots from the past coupla years. (dont freak out prudes, just petty crimes and suspicion of things I never did)

    Anyone know how I can do this?

    July 1, 2009 at 9:41 pm |
  2. John K

    Systems like are making it easier for Police Departments to archive years and years of mugshots. Technology will just keep moving.

    May 6, 2009 at 6:03 pm |
  3. Elizabeth

    Tell Jimbo that there is a newspaper/website called Tampa Bay Times, aka TBT in the Tampabay market, and it is put out by the St. Petersburg Times. Go Mugshots! I love the page! 🙂

    May 6, 2009 at 2:34 pm |
  4. Nunya

    Carol Costello and Bob Ruff, you must have nothing better to do than to snoop around and dig into peoples business. Why don't you two just get a life? I hope one or several of these individuals are found NOT guilty by the jury or judge, have their arrest record expunged and therefore their picture removed from the police database, then are denied a job because of this article, and then they come back and sue you personally and your news organization and then have this article forcibly removed for defamation of character, libel, slander, infliction of emotional distress, and whatever else their lawyer can think of. This is NOT newsworthy; this is simply a personal attack on a small number of people you selectively chose. You are messing with peoples lives and you should be ashamed of yourselves.

    May 5, 2009 at 2:01 pm |
  5. steve

    let's see>>>> don't do the crime if you can't do the time? if you didn't do something wrong you wouldn't be mug shotted!! lot's of people are photographed with out consent. in my best saying knock off the wineing.

    May 5, 2009 at 1:43 pm |
  6. augbr

    Jimbo... you beat me to it. My first reaction was what the heck is the Tampa Bay Times? It IS the "St. Petersburg Times" ... and I love the feature on their website... If you ever wake up in the middle of the night, it can be amusing to see who gets arrested and why during the wee hours of the morning. 95% are for smaller offenses, such as disorderly conduct, drug possesion, DUI, etc. Offenses that for the most part – people end up paying small fines and minimal to no jail time. And by the way – in some areas, if a mug shot isn't available to the media for a story – a driver's license picture is.

    May 5, 2009 at 1:43 pm |
  7. Vic

    Hell, I couldn't help but smile just thinking about what a joke our justice system is! No wonder they are smiling. So is every other country in the world-at us, not with us...

    May 5, 2009 at 1:38 pm |
  8. Deb

    Wrong, Jimbo! The TBT is passed out free of charge in downtown Tampa every morning. The web site is also correct. This paper is published by the St. Pete Times. It says so right on the front cover of the paper.

    May 5, 2009 at 1:35 pm |
  9. Joe

    If they are so innocent, then why were they arrested? Shame on you Liberals who constantly question the Police who keep us safe.

    May 5, 2009 at 1:31 pm |
  10. Jones Foyer

    Innocent until proven guilty, yes. However, being arrested logically means you are more likely to be guilty than innocent if you assume that police make the correct judgment in the field more than 50% of the time, which I do (I am sure some disagree).

    I got out of jury duty when the attorney screening jurors asked if anyone thought that someone was "more likely to be guilty just because they were arrested", mathematically speaking, I had to raise my hand.

    May 5, 2009 at 1:29 pm |
  11. will

    Unconstitutional?????? It's called "Open Records Act" and "Freedom of Information Act". Arrest records are mostly public records, and are generally available for the asking.

    May 5, 2009 at 1:28 pm |
  12. Ken

    On a note of style; Internet is a proper noun and should be capitalized.

    May 5, 2009 at 1:28 pm |
  13. Andy

    If you're being hauled into a police station – chances are pretty high you're guilty of something ... if not the thing you're hauled in for, then it's most likely something else. Victims of crimes get short shrift in the justice "system" ... noone looks out for them, but they're all pre-occupied with the defendan's "rights" (sic).

    Oh, and if someone pleads that abomination known as the Fifth Amendment (better called the Cowards' Amendment or the Criminals' Amendment), then YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO HIDE. You know it, and so do sane, reasonable people.

    May 5, 2009 at 1:26 pm |
  14. Sean Spishak

    Cmon people. Gimme a break. It isnt unconstitutional. Free Speech. These outlets arent showing these pictures and saying that this person is guilty, they are saying this person was arrested. Fricking Democrats

    May 5, 2009 at 1:24 pm |
  15. Dawn


    A simple google search for Tampa Bay Times pulled up this website and in the corner was a logo that at Tampa Bay Times, also known as tbt*.

    It appears that the St. Petersburg Times and tbt* are part of the same organization. Especially seeing as a link to the above website is found that the bottom the St. Petersburg Times home page. Both website homepages display the mugshots.

    Perhaps you should be less quick to judge.

    May 5, 2009 at 1:23 pm |
  16. formerUSMC

    MichaelfromPit: They did mention the whole innocent until convicted thing.

    May 5, 2009 at 1:23 pm |
  17. Carrie

    Anyone who's so adamant against this must have been arrested and had their mugshot published for everyone to see.

    May 5, 2009 at 1:20 pm |
  18. kingy

    can we get copies of our mug shots emailed to us, or does that depend on the police department. looks like a perfect size for facebook.

    May 5, 2009 at 1:17 pm |
  19. Mary

    People have the right to know what's going on in their communities, which is why crimes are considered public record. If crimes are considered public record, then so is the mug shot. People who are accused of crimes do not have privacy.

    May 5, 2009 at 1:15 pm |
  20. Kevin

    Hey Jimbo, Tampa Bay Times is a newspaper, it is done by the St. Pete times and distributed free around the tampa area. So get your facts straight before you start pretending your from Tampa.

    May 5, 2009 at 1:14 pm |
  21. Bubba

    I not only smiled; I crossed my eyes and stuck out my tongue. The jury refused to convict me.

    May 5, 2009 at 1:11 pm |
  22. Jo

    All court records–including mug shots–are public information. Along with mug shots, names of accused have been named in news stories on television, in newspapers and on the internet for years. The only thing that is changing is the prevelance of this happening.

    May 5, 2009 at 1:07 pm |
  23. John

    I agree with Maurice.

    This is tragic. What's even worse is that the people's mugshot images are used and profited from by newspapers (and now CNN) without any compensation to the person in the photograph and without their express written consent.

    This society is in a shambles.

    May 5, 2009 at 1:02 pm |
  24. Robert

    If CNN actually believed in 'innocent until proven guilty' – they wouldn't have Nancy Grace on the air.

    May 5, 2009 at 1:01 pm |
  25. Haris Sih

    This isn't so new. Just look at the mug shot that Tom DeLay took!

    May 5, 2009 at 1:01 pm |
  26. Bob

    I believe it was Tom DeLay of Texas who decided that for his mug shot, he would dress well and smile. He didn't want to picture to be used against him when campaigning.

    May 5, 2009 at 12:56 pm |
  27. Maurice

    Isn't this unconstitutional? Isn't there some part of the constitution that protects us from such blatant public humiliation? I'm pretty sure
    there is. Now the people who work for our oppressive system will
    say it isn't unconstitutional, and a matter of public record. But then
    according to them, nothing is unconstitutional because they don't
    recognize the rights and dignity of anyone, except for those who have
    the money to pay them off. Laugh it up people, just look at society as
    one big joke, it will not be funny when you are the joke. And what is
    up with that note that always says that people are innocent until proven guilty. No; if you're picture is displayed for the world to see, then you are guilty no matter what to millions of people. Get some self-respect and integrity America, and stop laughing at your own oppression – cause it isn't funny.

    May 5, 2009 at 12:47 pm |
  28. James

    WTF! What is wrong with this society? Is there no right to privacy, shame or embarassment anymore? Do we need to search for people's "mug shots" or have them published? It is no one's damn business! People, you need to get over yourselves, get a life and a little self-respect!

    May 5, 2009 at 12:47 pm |
  29. Chris

    It makes sense to me. I got a noise ordinance ticket and had to get a mug shot so I showed up in my full service dress air force uniform. If they are going to be stupid and lump you in with the real criminals then why not smile? I did!

    May 5, 2009 at 12:42 pm |
  30. Nick

    If i were to be arrested and awaiting trial, especially by jury, or one that was well televised and my mug shot made it out before said trial, I would sue the police department and the media outlet for slander as I am innocent until proven guilty.............letting a mug shot out is a kin to charging someone publicly with being a pedophile or rapist. What if that person is innocent, but charges are dropped due to lack of evidence. That person will be black listed even though they are innocent because of how people are. Most people subcontiously are ready to demonize anyone as a way of re-affirming our own greatness ( ego food ) and the term Lack of Evidence to prove guilt could also be worded as " the case was dropped due to lack of proof of guilt."

    May 5, 2009 at 12:40 pm |
  31. S Callahan

    I think it's morally wrong to publish anyone's mug's essentially convicting someone in the media by offering the community a mindset of that person......before they have their hearing and determination of their guilt or innocence. How is it even constitutional? Until (ad if) convicted , as US citizens, they should have a right to privacy.

    May 5, 2009 at 12:33 pm |
  32. Jimbo

    First off, its 'The Saint Petersburg Times' doing this on their website There is no paper / website called Tampa Bay Times. Who writes these articles?!

    May 5, 2009 at 12:26 pm |
  33. JD

    Seriously! I love how the article notes that these people are innocent until proven guilty. You honestly think anyone who sees one of these photos is going to stop and assume innocence? Someone is going to an interview and the potential employer just happen to flip through the paper or catch a glimpse online... you really think that is NOT going to have a negative outcome? This is invasion of privacy and slander until the day the person is actually convicted. PERIOD.

    May 5, 2009 at 12:25 pm |
  34. Michael from Pittsburgh

    What ever happened to innocent until proven guilty?

    May 5, 2009 at 12:24 pm |
  35. Jenn

    Twitter makes this even easier.

    May 5, 2009 at 12:20 pm |
  36. Tim W

    Screw what the jury thinks! I'm a cop and if I got arrested my mug would definitely be on the news sites. I'm smiling. Nothing huge or obnoxious, just a pleasant smile. Besides, in the few jury trials I have been involved with the jury never asks to see the mugshot.

    May 5, 2009 at 12:15 pm |