The Internet, Convictions and Arrests

The internet allows us to do wonderful things – find information we need quickly, locate friends and family. But for someone accused of a crime, the Internet, search engines, and social media can be a nightmare, spreading news of an embarrassing and shameful event far and wide. This is particular true in Raleigh, which is one of the most connected and digitally sophisticated cities of its size.

This is also the case for Sabrina De Sousa, a convicted kidnapper. Ms. De Sousa was convicted of these charges by an Italian court over the illegal rendition of a Egyptian religious figure. De Sousa, who if convicted in the United States would be a convicted felon, helped orchestrate the kidnapping 2003. Ms. DeSousa has never been extradited to Italy, where she would spend several years in prison. In a sense, she is a fugitive from justice.

In some ways, Sabrina De Sousa faces the same penalties as other convicted felons – because her name accurately linked to her conviction on kidnapping charges, she is finding it difficult to find employment.

In the past, a notice of arrest might appear in the News & Observer to be seen by the couple of hundred people who might stumble across that page on a given day. But today, the arrests appear on the websites of local television and media outlets, such as WRAL. These booking photos – which are merely the photographs taken when someone is charged with a crime – can end careers, make it difficult to find new work, ruin friendships, and tear apart families.

The Wake County Sheriff’s Office and the City-County Bureau of Identification (CCBI) make these photographs available to local media, and to private websites. There is no obligation that local media take down old photographs, even if the person ends up being found not guilty.

In fact, even if the person has had their record expunged – a lengthy process during which all public information about an arrest by police is removed from a record – there is no requirement that WRAL or other outlets remove the notice of the arrest from their websites.

Indeed, the information may be “cached” by Google. Some websites even charge fees of $50 and up to have photographs removed. While it’s not extortion, it certainly looks like it to the layperson.

There are a number of techniques you can use to help protect your privacy. Someone people even recommend privacy services and reputation services. (I do not.) There may be other strategies, including, if you have a common name, using a middle name or your nickname rather than the name under you were arrested (although you must always answer truthfully if required to answer about a criminal history record on various forms or government documents).

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.