Criminal defendants in New York fortunate enough to win acquittals or have
the charges against them dismissed often face an additional unanticipated
but thorny problem: their internet reputations have been destroyed. A
number of websites such as the New York Post, the Villager, Downtown Express,
and others maintain “police blotters” columns, in which they
post information about recent interesting arrests, including the names
of the accused. Unfortunately, the authors of those websites do not usually
follow-up to see the results of these arrests, and as a result, the entries
remain permanently. The practical effect is that Google searches of people
that have been arrested – including even those individuals who have
been ultimately exonerated – nevertheless yield search results that
make those people appear to be criminals. This can be devastating for
professionals seeking employment, as more and more employers are performing
online search engine research about their potential candidates. To be
sure, an employer that finds a candidate’s name on a police blotter
on the first page of the Google search results is probably not going to
hire that candidate.
So what can be done to help individuals that have been exonerated that
want to erase this negative information about themselves on the internet?
Unfortunately, the real answer is that there is no sure-fire way to succeed
in erasing these “police blotter” articles. The underlying
problem is that there is usually nothing defamatory about these articles
– after all, it is usually TRUE that the person was ARRESTED, and
the articles do not usually say much more than that. Thus, the threat
of litigation against the author of the website is usually an empty threat,
as the article is protected by the First Amendment and is not libelous.
Of course, there are many exceptions to this broad rule, and in those
cases, civil litigation may simply be necessary to force the author to
change or remove his or her story.
Many companies offer to “repair” or “defend” internet
reputations for a fee, but one should realize that what those companies
are typically doing is simply creating new online entries for their clients
about their clients in the hopes that these new websites will come up
on the first page of a Google search of their client’s name, and
thereby “push” the police blotter results to the second or
third page of Google results. In short, the “internet reputation”
companies do not actually “remove” negative online press for
their clients, they just try to bury it or push it back by cramming the
internet full of “junk sites” that will contain entries with
their client’s name(s) on the first page of search engine results.
We have had some success in simply finding the authors of the articles
and appealing to their better natures to persuade them to take down the
problematic articles. We have presented the authors with documentary proof
that the charges were dismissed and have explained to them just how the
articles are impacting our clients’ lives, and generally speaking,
those authors have voluntarily adjusted or removed their articles. The
real challenges to this approach are 1) finding and contacting the appropriate
webmasters, 2) being sufficiently charming to persuade them to change
their sites, and 3) remaining persistent until the job is complete.
If you or a loved one have had wrongful charges against you dismissed and
are now suffering the consequences of negative online articles, you should
strongly consider contacting an
experienced criminal defense attorney to help you attack and solve the problem.
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