Federal Mug Shots Must Be Released to Detroit Free Press, Court Rules

From the Detroit Free Press:

"For the third time in a decade, the Detroit Free Press today won a lawsuit over the public’s right to see the mug shots of criminal defendants charged in federal court.

But if history is any indication, the government will fight the order and continue keeping the booking photos out of the public’s view. An appeal is expected.

In a 34-page ruling today, U.S. District Judge Patrick Duggan noted that the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals already has spoken on the issue in concluding that people in mug shots [']do not have a privacy interest warranting nondisclosure.['] Consequently, Duggan wrote, he is bound by law to uphold that decision.

First Amendment and Free Press Attorney Herschel Fink said he hopes the issue can be put to rest.

[']This is our third lawsuit, so we can only hope that three strikes against the Department of Justice and they will be out,” said Fink, arguing the public “has a legitimate interest in seeing who has been arrested and charged with a crime ... and a vital interest in knowing about crime and law enforcement.[']

Attorneys for the government were not readily available for comment.

At issue in this case is a 2013 request by the Free Press to obtain the booking photographs of four Highland Park police officers who were awaiting trial in a federal drug and public corruption case. The newspaper requested the photographs under the Freedom of Information Act. At the time, all four defendants had been indicted, their names had been made public, and they had appeared in open court.

But the U.S. Marshal’s Service denied the request, noting that FOIA exempts certain records from disclosure that could warrant an invasion of privacy.

According to Fink, the public disclosure of mug shots serves several purposes: it can potentially show profiling; it can show if an arrestee has been abused in custody; it can lead to identification or linking of a suspect to other crimes; and it can show if the police have the wrong person.

The original complaint in this case sought the booking photos of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, his father, Bernard Kilpatrick, and his contractor friend, Bobby Ferguson –all of them defendants in a public corruption trial. The Marshal’s Service refused to release their mug shot, but ultimately did after discovering that the three photographs already had been released, so it re-released them.

As a result, the Free Press later amended its complaint to focus on the mug shots of the Highland Park police officers.

Duggan, meanwhile, ruled that the U.S. Justice Department must produce the four booking photos to the Free Press, just not right away. He ordered that his ruling is stayed pending appeal.

Duggan also ruled that the Free Press is entitled to request attorney fee and other costs should it win on appeal or should an appeal not be pursued by the government."