Lawsuit May Test Whether Publishing An Expunged Arrest Report Is Defamatory

Lorraine Martin, a Connecticut nurse, was arrested with her sons when the police raided her home and found a small amount of marijuana. The charges were later dropped and the official record was purged, says Martin has been unable to find a job, and she claims it is because when you type her name into a search engine, articles like one titled “Mother and Sons Charged with Drug Offenses” are still available through online news outlets. Martin filed a class-action suit against local news outlets on behalf of those who were arrested but whose criminal records have since been expunged.
The suit claims that the online media outlets defame them by continuing to make available content about the story. The novel question is: Can an article written about an incident that accurately describes an event that did take place be false if the record of that event was later expunged? In other words, does the truth change into a falsehood over time such that what happened after the fact makes the event described at the time defamatory? And if it does, then does the online news agency have an obligation to take down content that hurts a person's reputation or ability to earn a living if the subsequent events make it clear that the arrest should not have happened or where the prosecutor has, by expunging the record, shown that the person who was arrested for a crime should not continue to be judged on the basis of her arrest for it?

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