(The Center Square) – The Louisiana House has approved legislation to exempt police mugshots from public records until a person is convicted of a crime.
The House approved House Bill 729, sponsored by Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, with a vote of 75-21 to exempt most police booking photos from public record until a person is proven guilty.
The bill provides exceptions “if the person is a fugitive, or if law enforcement deems that person to be an imminent threat or danger,” Duplessis said Tuesday. “There’s also language in the bill that would allow for a court hearing, for a judge to make the determination that it’s in the public interest that the mugshot be released prior to conviction.”
Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, raised questions about whether other aspects of arrest records and public information could also be deemed prejudicial, such as a name or sex of a suspect. He also pointed to the value of mugshots in identifying additional victims of crimes.
Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Pineville, said he’s “worried this bill will shield the public from information that might impact public safety,” citing law enforcement who claim mugshots can lead to additional suspects or victims.
Duplessis argued the rare benefit of publishing mugshots “does not outweigh the harm that is currently happening in society where these photos are published for someone who … did not commit an offense, or they’re charged with something much less severe.”
“We as policymakers have to find a balance, an appropriate balance,” he said.
Duplessis cited federal policy that withholds mugshots from the public until conviction, “and that’s been upheld in federal court.”
“If you look nationally, more states are doing this,” he said. “With the advent of social media and the internet nowadays, we see how dangerous these photographs are and how easily they can be shared.”
Duplessis noted that many newspapers across the country have voluntarily adopted policies not to print mug shots before conviction “because they recognize this is something we have to get away from.”
He also discussed exploitative websites that publish mugshots and charge fees to have them removed.
Rep. Mandie Landry, D-New Orleans, shared a story of a client who was wrongfully arrested for stealing Christmas ornaments and struggled to have her mugshot removed from one website, only to have it appear on another.
“Even if she paid one or two of them, it would just pop up elsewhere,” Landry said.
Rep. Jeremy LaCombe, D-Livonia, explained his support for the bill stemmed from a case that the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear in 2017, Detroit Free Press v. Department of Justice. In 2016, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the federal policy on mugshots, which HB 729 mirrors.
Several other lawmakers also spoke in support of the bill. The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana and Louisiana Progress are in favor, as well. The Louisiana Press Association opposes.
Scott Sternberg, the association’s general counsel, argued in the House and Governmental Affairs Committee last month that HB 729 should be more narrowly tailored to allow for release of mugshots under more circumstances, such as for child sex offenders, violent crimes or public officials.
“Simply eliminating from the public records law the mugshot, in my opinion and in the opinion of the Louisiana Press Association, is a very broad stroke when we could use a scalpel here,” he said.
HB 729 now moves to the Senate for consideration.