From left, Reps. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma, and Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, in the Louisiana House of Representative, Feb. 2, 2022. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)
The Louisiana Legislature is considering a ban on the release of almost all police mug shots unless a person is convicted of a crime. The proposed restriction could impact the way media reports on arrests throughout the state.
House Bill 729, sponsored by Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, would remove most photographs law enforcement takes after a person is arrested and during their booking into a correctional facility from the public record. This would mean that mug shots would typically no longer accompany stories about arrests that appear in news outlets.
“I understand not wanting to chip away at public records. I get that, but not everything should be a public record,” Duplessis said.
The Louisiana House and Governmental Affairs Committee voted 11-1 in favor of the bill Wednesday, with only Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Pineville, dissenting. The Louisiana House is expected to take up the proposal over the next couple of weeks. Utah and Illinois have already enacted similar laws.
Duplessis said mug shots have historically been used to shame people who get arrested. They leave the public with the impression that a person in a mug shot is a criminal, even though they haven’t been convicted of a crime yet. SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST. GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
“We are not in the 1950s anymore. One push of a button and our picture is literally across the globe,” he said.
The bill would allow for some exceptions to the proposed mug shot ban. Law enforcement agencies could release a mug shot prior to conviction if they determined the individual was a fugitive or represented an “imminent threat.” They could also release the mug shot if it would allow them to apprehend a person more easily.
A judge could also order a mug shot public if it was in “furtherance of legitimate law enforcement interest.”
The bill also has some specific restrictions aimed at mug shot publish-for-pay outlets that have cropped up around the country. Those organizations publish hundreds of mug shots and refuse to take them down until a person pays for their removal. Critics liken the practice to extortion.
Duplessis’ bill would allow law enforcement to withhold all mug shots from people suspected of running publish-for-pay operations. It would also cap the amount of money that could be charged to remove a mug shot from a public website at $50 per photograph. If a mug shot was not removed after a request was made, the publish-for-pay operations could be fined under the bill.
The legislation has drawn support from several civil rights organizations and groups that work with formerly incarcerated people, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana.
The Louisiana Press Association opposes the legislation.
“Simply eliminating the mug shot from the public record is a very broad stroke,” said Scott Sternberg, the press association’s general counsel.
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Sternberg suggested that Louisiana mandate a price for each mug shot instead. Charging for the photographs would eliminate most of the publish-for-pay operations, he said, and would push media organizations to use mug shots less often.
Some media organizations have already stepped away from mug shots anyway. Newspapers across the country have announced in recent years that they will no longer run mug shots alongside stories about arrests.
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