North Carolina Senate Bill 744


Summary

A provision in North Carolina Senate Bill 744 would require any publisher or website operator to remove “criminal record information” within 15 days of a request by the person who is the subject of the information, if that person had not been convicted of a crime. If removal of the information is not possible, the publisher or website must print a “retraction.”

Failure to remove the information is subject to a fine of $100 per week per incident. If the information has not been removed within 45 days of the request, it creates the presumption of defamation of character. The bill does not require that either the person requesting that the information be removed or the website subject to the request be a resident of North Carolina.

“Criminal record information” is defined as:

  1. Descriptions or notations of any arrests, any formal criminal charges, and the disposition of those criminal charges
  2. Photographs of the person taken pursuant to an arrest or other involvement in the criminal justice system
  3. Personal identifying information, including a person’s name, address, date of birth, photograph or certain other data.

The bill was amended to remove this section entirely.

Status

Gov. Pat McCrory signed the amended bill into law. The law does not include any language about removal of arrest information.

Analysis

The legislation gives control of the editorial decisions of newspapers, book publishers, websites and other media to people who have been arrested but not convicted. It would allow O.J. Simpson or his agent to request any website to take down descriptions of the long police chase of him in his white Bronco that led to his arrest, since he was acquitted in the death of his wife. Similarly, Lee Harvey Oswald’s estate could ask that information about him be removed from websites since law enforcement did not pursue his prosecution after he was killed in police custody.

The bill limits the publication of a wide variety of information about the arrest. Determining which of this information should be published are core reporting and editing activities reserved to the publisher. The state cannot instruct a publisher to remove or retract this information.

History

  • The bill was introduced [2] on May 14, 2014 and referred to the Senate Committee on Appropriations.
  • The committee recommended the bill be passed with amendments, which includes the provision about arrest information.
  • The Senate passed the bill on May 31, 2014. The bill was sent to the House and referred to the House Committee on Appropriations. The bill was re-referred to the House Committee on Finance.
  • On June 9, 2014, Media Coalition submitted a memo in opposition [1] to the members of the committee, explaining our constitutional concerns with the bill.
  • The committee recommended a substitute bill [3] be passed. The section on arrest information was not included in the substitute bill.
  • The House passed the amended bill and was sent to the Senate for concurrence. The Senate voted not to concur with the changes made in the House. The House and the Senate appoint a conference committee.
  • On August 2, 2014, the House and the Senate both passed the conference version of the bill, which still does not include the section on arrest information.
  • Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill into law.

Last updated: Sep 3, 2015