Mug shots

Detroit Free Press v. Dep't of Justice

December 28, 2016

The Detroit Free Press sought to obtain the booking photos of federal indictees who had been publiicly named and had appeared in open court through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The U.S. Marshals Service denied the request, citing Exemption 7(C) of FOIA. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the Detroit Free Press. On appeal before the entire circuit court, the Sixth Circuit held that individuals maintain a "non-trival privacy interest" in booking photos. In response, the Detroit Free Press has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for review. In support of the petition, the Reporters Committee argues that the booking photos of federal indictees do not implicate any cognizable privacy interests under the Constitution or the common law and should not be exempt from FOIA under Exemption 7(C).

Sixth Circuit limits access to federal mug shots

Sophie Murguia | Freedom of Information | News | July 15, 2016
July 15, 2016

Federal authorities can withhold mug shots from release due to privacy concerns, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled Thursday.

The court, sitting en banc, overturned its 1996 decision, which held that there was no privacy interest to justify exempting federal mug shots from the Freedom of Information Act. The new ruling will not necessarily keep all mug shots from being released, but it will require a case-by-case consideration of whether the public interest in disclosure outweighs privacy interests.

“A disclosed booking photo casts a long, damaging shadow over the depicted individual,” Judge Deborah Cook wrote for the majority in the 9-7 decision.

The majority argued that the digital age has made privacy concerns even more pressing.

Reporters Committee argues for release of federal mugshots under FOIA

Adam Marshall | Freedom of Information | Commentary | January 23, 2015
January 23, 2015

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, along with 36 news organizations, filed an amicus brief last week with the U.S. Court of Appeals (6th Cir.) arguing that mugshots taken by the U.S. Marshals Service must be released to the public under the Freedom of Information Act.

The brief argues that not only is there no privacy right implicated by releasing photos of persons who have been arrested, indicted, and appeared in open court, but that there is a powerful interest in ensuring the criminal justice system remains open to the public.

Detroit Free Press v. U.S. Department of Justice

January 16, 2015

The Detroit Free Press sued the DOJ for the release of mugshots taken by the U.S. Marshals Service under the Freedom of Information Act. The trial court held for DFP, and the government appealed to the 6th Circuit. Our brief argues that neither constitutional nor common law recognizes a privacy interest in photographs of persons who have been arrested and indicted, and appeared in open court, specifically noting that mugshots are open or presumably open to the public under the laws of at least 40 states. The brief also argues that even if there is a privacy interest in mugshots, it is outweighed by the public interest in their disclosure.

Detroit Free Press wins third mugshot lawsuit

Emily Grannis | Freedom of Information | News | April 25, 2014
April 25, 2014

The Detroit Free Press won a lawsuit this week over the public's right to federal mug shots. It was the third time in 20 years that the paper won after suing the federal government on this issue.

Reporters Committee letter to Senate Judiciary Committee

March 4, 2013

The Reporters Committee wrote to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee asking them to question Attorney General Eric Holder about the Department of Justice's policy of releasing booking photographs under FOIA. The Marshals Service had unilaterally determined not to honor such requests despite a federal appellate court's longstanding decision that the photographs do not implicate individual privacy.

Reporters Committee asks DOJ to overturn new Marshals Service policy blocking release of federal mug shots

Press Release | January 31, 2013
January 31, 2013

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, joined by 37 media organizations, has written to U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., asking that a recently enacted Marshals Service policy to block the release of federal criminal booking photographs be rescinded.

Appeals court rules federal mug shots can be kept secret

Haley Behre | Freedom of Information | Feature | February 22, 2012
February 22, 2012

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver (10th Cir.) ruled today that the federal government does not have to release mug shots under the federal Freedom of Information Act in World Publishing Company v. Department of Justice. The court's decision brings to three the number of federal appeals courts to confront the issue.

Reporters Committee asks U.S. Marshals Service to explain latest statement on mug shots

Press Release | January 4, 2012
January 4, 2012

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has written to the U.S. Marshals Service asking it to clarify its position on the release of federal booking photographs under the federal Freedom of Information Act. Specifically, the Reporters Committee inquired into future access policies within the geographic bounds of the Sixth Circuit where a federal appeals court ruled in 1996 that these mug shots are public documents. The letter was co-signed by 21 leading news media companies and organizations.

Reporters Committee brief argues against federal mug shot rules

Press Release | May 2, 2011
May 2, 2011

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a friend-of-the-court brief Monday asking a federal appeals court to revisit the U.S. Marshals Service’s “inane” policy of releasing federal suspects’ mug shots based on the requestor’s physical location.