Friday, February 24, 2012

Mug Shots Not for Public Consumption, Appeals Court Rules

Seal of the United States Court of Appeals for...Image via WikipediaIn World Publishing Co. v. U.S. Department of Justice (Docket No. 11-5063), the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit this week unanimously decided that prisoner "mug shots" are not subject to production under the Freedom of Information Act [5 U.S.C. sec. 552 et seq.].

As reported by the plaintiff Tulsa World, the 10th Circuit three-judge panel in a 15-page decision joined their brethren on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in ruling that inmates' photos are exempt under the federal act.  The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit previously reached the opposite conclusion, suggesting that the issue may reach the Supreme Court sooner or later.

The Tulsa daily sought mug shots of six prisoners, arguing that the proliferation of camera phones, video and the like in modern society serve to diminish the prisoners' expectation of privacy, but the 10th Circuit wasn't buying. In fact, Judge Paul Kelly turned the World's argument around, noting that the widespread availability of photos elsewhere negates the paper's need for the prisoner photos.

The appeals court upheld the ruling of United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma Judge Terence Kern, who last year exempted federal inmate mug shots under the FOIA. The Tulsa World sued the U.S. Marshalls Service in 2009 to obtain the photos.
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