Bill to withhold mugshots until conviction passes La. House

Published: Apr. 7, 2022 at 5:21 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A bill that will keep mugshots private until a court is able to secure a criminal conviction passed in the Louisiana House of Representatives and is now heading to the Senate.

New Orleans representative Royce Duplessis said releasing mugshots of people who are only suspected of crimes is unfair and can haunt a person for a lifetime.

“What is the true social value of a mug shot prior to conviction?” Duplessis said. “The stories can still be told, the public can still be informed. A mugshot is not necessary to tell a story.”

That is why he authored the bill and argues that in this digital age, nothing can truly be deleted.

“If that mugshot is out there for someone who has either been falsely accused or wrongfully arrested, or they’re ultimately found not guilty, their mugshot is still out there. So when they go apply for a job, or they go apply for housing or some issue with their personal life arises, that mugshot can have extreme, detrimental impacts,” Duplessis said. “I know, personally, individuals who have been impacted by this as do many other people.”

However, some state senators want input from law enforcement and other testimony before casting a vote to get rid of public access to mugshots. Sen. Kirk Talbot said he wants to see how other states with similar laws have faired - as well as their law enforcement agencies.

“Is it harder for police and the safety of police officials to do their job? Those are the things in committee that I look forward to hearing before making a decision on it,” Talbot said.

Rafael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission said police investigations should not be impacted if the measure becomes law.

“It’s really not because, by the time the police have made an arrest or an indictment is secured, they already completed their investigation,” he said. “The fact that mugshots were released to the media... that was just maybe to assist the media, which is very visual now in putting a face to who the individual is. It’s really not necessary for the investigation or the prosecution.”

The bill would not entirely get rid of access to mugshots. The bill allows them to be released if police believe the suspect is a danger to the community or if the suspect is a repeat offender.

“If it’s a previous conviction where they have the mugshot, you can release that under my bill,” Duplessis said. “If it’s a previous conviction, that mugshot can be released.”

Duplessis said this will mostly affect the way news outlets report on crime by taking away a person’s mug shot until they are convicted. However, videos and images taken by public or private cameras can still be published freely.

The state representative said he hsa been seeing more support for his bill among other lawmakers, while other politicians like Talbot want to hear more from experts.

“I’m undecided. I want to read it first. I want to hear testimony from both sides of that issue,” Talbot said. “When you see a mugshot I think people say, ‘Alright, I know who that is. I know they did this.’ Maybe it helps solve the crime faster. I will keep an open mind.”

House Bill 729 will now make its way to the Committee on Senate and Governmental Affairs after passing the house with a vote of 75-21 on Tuesday, April 5.

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