MICHIGAN — A federal District Court judge in Detroit ordered the Department of Justice to release to the Detroit Free Press mug shots of eight persons arrested and charged with federal crimes, but she stayed her ruling in late May to allow appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati (6th Circuit).
However, Judge Anna Diggs Taylor said, as she had in her initial ruling, that “the public interest is served by full lawful disclosure of such records.” She added, “There is no privacy entitlement in the visage of persons when they’ve been booked.”
Judge Taylor ruled on a reporter’s request for mug shots of persons indicted for gambling and other offenses at a posh suburban Detroit golf club.
Jack Anthony Lucido had purchased the Wolverine Golf Club north of Mount Clemens in 1980 and in the next decade expanded the facility to five nine-hole courses with a plush new and enormous clubhouse and banquet hall.
But in March 1992 the federal government handed down an 82-count indictment of Lucido, family members and associates on charges they ran illegal gambling, sports bookmaking activities and a money-laundering operation at the Wolverine Club. The authorities seized the club and Lucido’s home.
Detroit Free Press reporter Joe Swickard filed Freedom of Information Act requests in July 1993 with Department of Justice agencies for mug shots of eight of the 14 persons ultimately indicted and in November sued the government for the records after they were denied.
The government claimed the pictures were protected by the privacy exemptions (Exemptions 6 and 7c) to the FOI Act. Calling a mug shot especially intrusive, its attorneys said a mug shot “visually associates the individual with criminal activity, an association more powerful than words,” and is “stigmatizing, incriminating and embarrassing.”
But Swickard’s attorney, saying a mug shot is “no private fact,” argued that the public has an interest in the identities of suspects and persons charged with crimes. The government itself often releases mug shots in the hope that citizens will recognize and contribute more information about an individual, he told the court.
In her ruling from the bench, Judge Taylor said “our faces, for better or worse, are not private matters.” She also said that defendants’ appearance at the time of booking may well be of interest in examining how the Marshal’s Office conducts its booking procedures. The operations of this part of the judicial process must be thrown open to public scrutiny, just as are other parts, “and for good reason,” she said.
(Detroit Free Press v. Department of Justice; Counsel: Herschel Fink, Detroit)
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.