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Mug shots may be released at discretion of sheriff

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Mug shots may be released at discretion of sheriff

  • A sheriff may choose to release mug shots or not, but once he releases them they must be made available to any requester, the state attorney general ruled in mid-July.

July 25, 2003 — A sheriff has discretion to release copies of photographs of people who are arrested to the public or media, the California Attorney General’s Office opined July 14. However, once a photo has been released, it must be available to anyone else who requests it.

The opinion, in response to a request by Contra Costa County sheriff Warren E. Rupf, said that arrestee photos could be withheld under the “records of investigations” exemption of the California Public Records Act.

“A mug shot is used by the police not only to identify the person arrested, but to determine if he or she is wanted on any other charge,” wrote Deputy Attorney General Thomas S. Lazar, who prepared the opinion for Attorney General Bill Lockyer. “Mug shots from earlier arrests may be used during subsequent investigations to identify individuals suspected of committing criminal offenses.”

Because California law allows release of information about arrests, furnishing mug shots to the public “would not violate the arrested person’s constitutional right of privacy,” Lazar wrote.

Disclosing the information to one member of the public waives investigative exemption and requires disclosure to “any other person who requests a copy.”

(Opinion No. 03-205)JL

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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