Georgia rushes to pass crime photo exemption to records law

Nadia Tamez-Robledo | Freedom of Information | Quicklink | March 11, 2010

Hustler magazine's request for photos of a slain hiker has prompted a push by Georgia lawmakers to quickly pass a bill that would block the release of certain crime scene photos without the permission of the deceased individual's family or a court order, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.

The state's House Committee on Government Affairs passed the Meredith Emerson Memorial Privacy Act unanimously on Wednesday, just one day after it was introduced and just two days after a Hustler reporter filed an open-records request for the crime scene pictures of murdered 24-year-old Meredith Emerson, whose body was found nude and decapitated in the northern Georgia mountains after she disappeared in 2008.

The magazine appealed the The Georgia Bureau of Investigation's decision to not release the photographs along with other documents in response to Hustler's public records request. A Georgia Superior Court judge granted Emerson’s family a temporary restraining order on Wednesday that blocks the photographs' release.

The bill would exempt photographs, video and audio recordings that “depict or describe a deceased person in a nude, bruised, bloodied, or broken state with open wounds or in a state of dismemberment or decapitation” from the state’s open records law. Exempted materials would be made available only with the written permission of the deceased’s spouse, adult child, parent or a judge.

Credentialed journalists, lawyers and law enforcement agents would be permitted to access such documents at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s headquarters but would not be allowed to make copies of them, Rep. Jill Chambers, the main sponsor of the bill, told CNN.

Hustler and Mr. Flynt disagree with the GBI's position, and are currently exploring all legal options available to them should the decision be made to go forward with the story," the magazine told CNN by e-mail.