A bill that would ban police from releasing mugshots until a person has been convicted of a crime cleared its first hurdle Thursday.
HB228 would make those photos taken by police after someone is arrested a protected record, and would prohibit police from sharing a mugshot with the public or media unless that person is convicted or a judge orders its release. It could also be released if that suspect is an “imminent threat” or a wanted fugitive that police are seeking.
Bill sponsor Keven Stratton, R-Orem, called it an “inequality” that mugshots of those who are accused of a crime, but haven’t been convicted, are so readily available online in news reports and on sheriff’s websites, even if that person was falsely accused or never found guilty.
“The reality is, today, we have a virtual scarlet letter around the one who has been accused or arrested,” he said.
The bill was backed by Black Lives Matter Utah and others who said that, historically, mugshots of people of color have been published disproportionately on news websites.
It was opposed by members of Utah’s Media Coalition, which includes The Salt Lake Tribune. Nate Carlisle, a journalist at FOX 13 News, said the journalism industry is capable of regulating itself and doesn’t publish every mugshot unless it’s in the public’s interest. He also said it serves as a check for law enforcement if the public can see who is being arrested, or if they’ve been visibly injured before they were taken to jail.
“The news media is not in the business of publishing booking photos to make money, said FOX 13 news director Marc Sternfield. “We’re not in the business of publishing mug shots just because we can. We’re not in the business of shaking down criminal suspects just to have their mug shots removed from our website. As journalists, our business is transparency and accountability.”
But members of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee seemed concerned about not just limiting media, but other websites that might post booking photos for entertainment. They passed the bill unanimously, and it now moves to the entire House of Representatives for a vote.
Correction: Feb. 5, 2021, 11:20 a.m.: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of FOX 13 news director Marc Sternfield.