Louisiana Limits Mug Shot Publishing Before Conviction

By: - June 22, 2022 12:00 am

Shoes and clothing sit near evidence markers at a New Orleans crime scene in May. Under a new law, Louisiana law enforcement won’t be allowed to release most mug shots prior to conviction. Gerald Herbert/The Associated Press

Louisiana has joined several other states in limiting when mug shots can be made public.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Tuesday he signed a law that bars law enforcement agencies from releasing most booking photos before a person is convicted of a crime.

“Millions are arrested every year, only to later have their charges dropped or cases dismissed, or be found not guilty,” said state Democratic Rep. Royce Duplessis, in an op-ed in The Advocate explaining why he introduced the bill.

“Yet their booking photos, published online or in print, follow them around for years, like a modern-day scarlet letter of criminality.”

Post-arrest photos can perpetuate racial stereotypes. That was part of the motivation behind a similar bill that was enacted last year in Oregon, according to its sponsor state Rep. Janelle Bynum, a Democrat.

The practice of media publicizing booking photos “tends to harm communities of color more than anybody else,” Bynum said in an interview with Stateline.

The original Louisiana measure would have stopped law enforcement from releasing photos prior to conviction with only narrow exceptions for someone deemed a fugitive or a danger to the public. The Senate amended the bill to add exceptions for people accused of certain crimes, including sex offenses, human trafficking or cruelty to animals.

Critics of the legislation assert that all mug shots should be accessible under public record laws. The Louisiana Press Association opposed the bill, according to the Louisiana Illuminator. But several news organizations throughout the United States have decided not to publish mug shots prior to convictions.

The law, which passed with bipartisan support, also puts certain restrictions on commercial websites that publish booking photos and typically charge fees for them to be removed. For example, if an individual who has been acquitted of a crime in Louisiana asks a website to remove their photo, the website must do so within seven days without charging a fee.

In recent years, legislators in many states have debated measures that would crack down on those commercial websites. Over the past year, lawmakers in some states have gone further by barring the release of the photos not just to those sites but also to the public generally, including to law enforcement social media accounts and news outlets.

At least six states—Arkansas, California, Florida, Montana, Oregon and Utah—enacted restrictions on distributing mug shots last year, and close to a dozen states considered similar legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Lindsey Van Ness
Lindsey Van Ness

Lindsey Van Ness is an assistant production editor and staff writer for Stateline. Previously Lindsey reported on public safety issues at LNP and LancasterOnline in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.