State Representative Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, introduced House Bill 729, which would remove most photographs from the public record that law enforcement takes after a person’s arrest during the booking process.
“I understand not wanting to chip away at public records. I get that, but not everything should be a public record,” Duplessis said.
The passage of this law would drastically change how media outlets report on arrests in most situations. However, the bill does consider that certain conditions require the release of the photos in the interest of public safety, and in those cases, it would be allowed.
- Law enforcement agencies could release a mug shot prior to conviction if they determine the individual was a fugitive or posed an “imminent threat” to the public.
- Judges could order mug shots to be released if it would allow more easy apprehension of suspects.
HB 729 would address individuals that run publish-for-pay websites that claim to publicize mug shots as a public service but charge those in the photos to remove the images from their site.
Under the proposed bill, sites that do not remove the mug shot after a request would be fined. Sites also would not be allowed to charge more than $50 to remove mug shots.
Since mug shots are often confused by the public as proof of wrongdoing, Duplessis believes that the publication of the images leaves the general public with the impression that a person in a mug shot is a criminal even though they have not been “proven guilty.”
“We are not in the 1950s anymore. One push of a button and our picture is literally across the globe,” Duplessis said.
Rep. Mike Lee, R-Pineville, was the only La. House and Governmental Affairs Committee member to vote against the proposal, which passed through the committee with an 11-1 vote.
The Louisiana Press Association opposes the bill. During the committee hearing, Scott Sternberg, legal counsel for the association referred to the proposal as a “very broad stroke, when we could use a scalpel” and asserted mug shots can sometimes be beneficial in encouraging victims to come forward.
Measures similar to HB 729 are already in place in Utah, which bans the release of mugshots before conviction. Eighteen states currently restrict mug shot websites from charging removal fees or have regulations requiring the postings to be accurate.
The Louisiana House of Representatives will consider HB 729 during the current legislative session.