Should Newspapers Discontinue Their Crime Blotter / Mugshots Sections?

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

From the Biloxi (Miss.) Sun-Herald, in December (thanks to my student Jennifer Wilson for the pointer):

We've … discontinued our daily "mugshot" gallery on sunherald.com.

For years, we posted the pictures of people charged with felony crimes, and, again, it was a popular part of our website. But the mugshot stayed a part of people's lives forever, whether they were convicted or not. Plenty of people have contacted us over the years to say they were cleared of the crime but that mugshot has prevented them from getting jobs. It turns up in background searches.

And the mugshot gallery did not really meet our core mission of our news organization, to inform and serve the people of South Mississippi with news that affects their lives.

Should newspapers publish mugshots of people charged with felonies (or misdemeanors)? Should they publish daily crime blotters, which include the names of the people who are charged (even if there's no broader story to which this is relevant)? If they do, should they have a policy of deleting the pictures and names from their archives after some time? Should the policy be to delete the pictures and names only if the defendant is acquitted, or the charges are dropped? (Note that charges are often dropped pursuant to a first-offender deferred prosecution agreement, rather than an outright verdict of not guilty or a prosecutorial decision to simply drop the charges.)

Newspapers certainly have a First Amendment right to publish such material, and to keep it up (so long as they accurately describe the defendants as just having been accused)—and, of course, a First Amendment right not to. The question is how they should exercise this right.

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  1. An alternative to not publishing would be to publish updates, not only when people are convicted but when they are acquitted or charges are dropped. That way the information is available to those who are interested but searches by future employers and the like will pick up the up date as well as the initial accusation.

    1. Alas, updates are often not enough. People see a mugshot and decide “This person’s a trouble maker, not worth the risk”

      1. There’s also the question of who will pay for the updates (or more precisely, for the staff who will have to continuously check for and process the updates) and what liability, if any, the publisher would/should inherit for failing to update quickly enough, etc.

        No, the simpler answer is to not publish. Being arrested is simply not newsworthy. Being convicted, on the other hand, is newsworthy and should be covered more than it is.

        1. But arrests are in many cases newsworthy. The person arrested may be someone in the public eye whose absence from his or her normal activities will be noticed. The arrest may be the culmination of an investigation that has attracted public interest. The circumstances may be such that members of the public will want adjust their dealings with the arrestee. (Yes, the accused is presumed innocent, as far as the law is concerned, but not necessarily as far as individual’s dealings with him or her.) Members of the public may have evidence relevant to the case which they will not come forward about if they do not know about the arrest. (Note that this includes exculpatory evidence.)

          1. You can consider individual arrests to be newsworthy based on their circumstances (which is not in question here) without considering all arrests to be de facto newsworthy (which is in question here).

            1. While I agree that one could have a selective policy, EV’s question seems to be formulated in absolute terms. In any case, some of the considerations I mentioned apply in a large percentage of cases. The hope that publicity will attract witnesses, for example, applies to any case in which the outcome is not a foregone conclusion.

        2. “There’s also the question of who will pay for the updates (or more precisely, for the staff who will have to continuously check for and process the updates) and what liability, if any, the publisher would/should inherit for failing to update quickly enough, etc.”

          Or they could just take blotter stories offline after 7 or 8 days or so. That would take approximately 0 staffers after the programmer finished the script to do it automatically.

          1. Given the prevalence of screen-scrapers, archivers, crawlers and other automated republication sites and tools, taking the blotter story offline from the original publisher is weak protection from the social negatives described in the article above. Better than the status quo, I’ll grant you. But I’d still rather they didn’t publish police blotters at all. Convictions are more relevant.

            I will concede to Escher and Bill that some individual arrests may be newsworthy – but those are the exceptions, not the rule.

            1. “Given the prevalence of screen-scrapers, archivers, crawlers and other automated republication sites and tools, taking the blotter story offline from the original publisher is weak protection from the social negatives described in the article above.”

              But 100% effective at shifting the blame to someone else. Not publishing has the same problem… it doesn’t keep anyone else from putting arrest records on the Internet.

      2. Unrelated:
        There really needs to a two-click sequence to flag a comment “for review”. I just accidentally “flagged for review” Armchair Lawyer’s comment here ’cause I was trying to click on somethign when the comment section finally expanded.

    2. The issue with updates is that the same people who see the original often make up their mind and don’t see the update. Even if they did, most people are biased to believe information they hear first. It’s one of the many reasons people call mainstream media fake news. They blatantly lie and then issue retractions to cover their ass, typically months afterward and buried in the back pages.

  2. “inform and serve the people of South Mississippi with news that affects their lives”

    Obviously no person would need to know about criminal activity so they can avoid criminals.

    1. Many of these people committed no crimes. If the crime scene is similar to the rest of the US, many of the rest are guilty only of using recreational drugs. For everyone, these records stretch back more than a decade. Nobody is helped by knowing that some woman was arrested in 2006 for shoplifting and it hurts her and the people around her.

      1. So this line of discussion is consistent with the idea of having a sunset policy allowing information to be deleted from the archives after a certain amount of time.

      2. It is quite relevant to the quality of life of a neighborhood or to an employer to know if someone is a drug user or a shoplifter.

        1. At what cost to people who are reformed or were wrongly accused, though?

        2. “It is quite relevant to the quality of life of a neighborhood or to an employer to know if someone is a drug user or a shoplifter.”

          This is, quite frankly, idiotic. There are probably shoplifters in just about every neighborhood in the United States. As for drug use, I know a couple of dozen drug users. They are a pretty diverse group of people, but they do have some things in common: advanced degrees, good professional jobs, and above-average household incomes.

          1. Are you suggesting that you would even know the homeless and deadbeat addicts well enough to generalize drug users? Because that’s some extreme confirmation bias on your end. I seriously doubt you live anyone near these types of people.

      3. “some woman was arrested in 2006 for shoplifting ”

        They only published felonies.

        “guilty only of using recreational drugs”

        Crimes are crimes. Felony drug users steal and are generally unsavory people.

        1. “Felony drug users steal and are generally unsavory people.”

          No. Some do. Possibly even most do. Some have sufficient wealth to squander.

          As for “unsavory”, YMMV.

    2. Not every arrest is legitimate. How about after conviction, not before?

  3. Several decades back when there was a lot of public commotion over drunken driving, our local paper ran a daily, or perhaps it was weekly, list of everyone who had been charged with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). They did that for a few years, but I didn’t notice when it stopped. Clearly, while this was public information, part of the purpose of publishing names was to embarrass, rather than merely an attempt to inform the public of the scope of the problem. Did the fear of such embarrassment advance public policy, any more than the fear of arrest? Hard to say.

    1. It’s not just to embarrass. It is to prejudice the jury pool by spreading the word that you are guilty party before any proof of guilt has been produced. That’s how we ended up with cases like the Central Park Five.

      Newspapers have a First Amendment right to publish mugshots and cover Prosecutor’s press conferences. But the government has no obligation to release mugshots or conduct press conferences.

      And if the media can agree not to publish the names or likenesses of certain types of victims, can they also not agree not to publish the names or likenesses of the accused in such cases? It seems to me to be especially prejudicial for the accused to have his or her face plastered over the news while the alleged victim is given special protection, particularly when the victim’s status as a “victim” is in question.

      1. “Crime blotter” stories are popular with newspapers and newsmen because they’re VERY easy to compile and write, and there’s pretty much ALWAYS a list of people who dunnit (You have to be in a pretty sleepy bywater to see “No crimes were reported last week” and even the most inept of law enforcement agencies will have arrested SOMEONE. On “Perry Mason”, Hamilton Burger never prosecuted the right person, but the cops always managed to arrest somebody.

  4. Very good question. But I’m pretty sure the newspapers won’t want to accept the burden of checking future acquittals or dismissals. Therefore, updates are not really a viable solution.

    The Internet and search engines have forever changed the balance between the public right to know, and personal privacy of those not convicted. Reluctantly, I think that mugshots and police blotters should no longer be published.

    1. They can check the jail lists, but not the court records? That doesn’t make sense.

      1. Arrest records and police blotters are in an easily-digestible, easily-reprintable format that only has to be touched a single time.

        Court records are more complex, require more human interpretation and, since we’re talking about updates, must be manually cross-referenced against the original report. And since we might have to deal with not only the trial decision but any appeals, you could end up touching the same matter many times.

        None of that makes it impossible. But it is considerably more complex and therefore expensive for the prospective publisher.

      2. As someone who used to compile the blotter for a small town newspaper, and who followed a number of cases throughout the system : it is absolutely much easier to do the police blotter than follow the court dockets.

        For one, the police blotter was compiled by the police, I just had to pick it up and edit it (usually by removing the names of those who were arrested for misdemeanors, cleaning up the text to be more readable, and occasionally pulling out more interesting items for follow up.) There’s no equivalent central repository for court records over a given time. (Ironically, the police would usually include *more* information than we wanted – even after marijuana was decriminalized in my state, they were giving us the names of everyone ticketed for smoking.)

        Secondly, people arrested in a given town may be actually tried in a number of different venues depending on the severity of the crime – I saw residents tried in town court, state court, and federal court, and even some that were transferred out of the area for trial. Since online records were often delayed by weeks or months, getting up to date information on a case usually requires being in the courtroom or digging through court records manually – and that’s assuming you know there was a hearing added to the docket. That’s very time consuming- you can spend all afternoon waiting for a hearing to start, only for it to be rescheduled with no warning.

  5. The simple answer: it is their right, but it is very debatable if this is currently in the public interest.

    In a very loosely related matter, the Evansville Courier-Press won a court case to be able to publish a list of deaths with the cause of death.
    https://caselaw.findlaw.com/in-supreme-court/1680321.html

    The lists are beneficial to the public since they show what people are actually dying from. It is interesting to note that far more people die from a fall from standing – or sitting – height than from drug overdoses.

    In decades past, there was a legitimate fear that a person could be arrested without public notice and the person arrested would have limited access to the courts. With the media, and social media, it is difficult to imagine that a city or county could “hide” an arrest. Therefore, it would seem that public interest in arrest records has diminished.

  6. I’d say that, if a newspaper has the arrest on its Web site without updates (on the same page) about subsequent dismissal or acquittal – at least in the case of actually innocent persons – then they might be able to try a defamation suit.

    In other words, if you’re factually innocent, and the system has acknowledged this by throwing out the charges or acquitting you, then continuing to publish the original arrest report without updates could be interpreted by a reasonable jury as implying guilt.

    1. …or at least as implying that “gosh, maybe this guy is guilty.”

    2. “then they might be able to try a defamation suit.”

      Arrests are a matter of public record. There is no expectation of privacy and no cause of action for a defamation suit.

      “continuing to publish the original arrest report ”

      The arrest is still a matter of public record. Acknowledging it’s existence isn’t grounds for a lawsuit.

      1. “There is no expectation of privacy”

        Irrelevant – I’m talking about publishing the arrest record of an innocent person without an update reflecting that there was an acquittal or a dropping of charges.

        Publish all the arrest reports you want, but in the case of innocent people, do a follow-up to show the charges turned out to be false.

        1. So…let me ask you this. If someone is arrested for shoplifting but he’s actually vindicated and the charges are duly dropped, can an enemy of that person, knowing or not caring that the charges were false, blanket social media with the statement “so-and-so was arrested for shoplifting” without explaining he wasn’t guilty?

          1. Obviously they can. We have Freedom of Speech, not Obligation To Include Ameliorating Context.

            Don’t confuse Rights with what’s right.

            1. So…no reasonable jury could reasonably infer that this was an accusation of shoplifting?

              You realize that’s what you’re saying, right?

              1. I observe, from the case cited by Prof. Volokh, that a newspaper can keep an arrest report online even if the charges are nolle prossed, the arrest is expunged, and the law considers the plaintiff never to have been arrested.

                But as far as I could tell, the plaintiff never said she was factually innocent – simply that the newspaper couldn’t say she’d been arrested if the courts officially, as a legal fiction, wiped the arrest record clean.

                Thus, I don’t know what the courts would do if a plaintiff could actually prove, first, that she didn’t actually commit the crime she was arrested for, that the charges ended with an acquittal or dismissal, and that the online report only mentioned the arrest without discussing the failure of the charges.

                1. In the second paragraph I’m summarizing what the plaintiff claimed, not what the court said (which was against her claim)

              2. Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying. Because the statement “so-and-so was arrested for shoplifting” is true, and America doesn’t have “Right to be Forgotten” laws.

                This shouldn’t be complicated. Don’t confuse unfair with unjust.

                1. Don’t confuse unjust with unlawful. The relationship is often, at best, tenuous.

            2. “Obviously they can. We have Freedom of Speech, not Obligation To Include Ameliorating Context.”

              Hold on. General public vs. Journalistic ethics. (Insert your own complaint about journalistic ethics, or the lack thereof, but leave me out of it.)

              Also, don’t confuse “you can be sued for this” and “you can be fired for this”.

              1. @James
                Are you responding to me? Because I’m not sure how any of what you wrote is a response to what I said.

      2. “Arrests are a matter of public record. There is no expectation of privacy and no cause of action for a defamation suit.”

        Extremely Very Likely true, but not CERTAINLY true. There is a shield for public records in defamation law, but there may be other statements that are not privileged along with the public records, that are.

    3. More to the point:
      Truth is a nearly an absolute defense in defamation cases.

  7. Mugshots are more prejudicial than informative. They can mean a range of things, but viewers are likely to assume the worst. And the _actually_ dangerous people will get lost in a sea of non-dangerous ones.

  8. In 1997, as I was leaving an outdoor concert in suburban Chicago, a woman mis-identified me to police as the man who had sexually assaulted her in a mosh pit. Despite my three friends all telling the officers that I was gay and had been with them on the lawn the whole time, they arrested me and charged me with sexual assault. After a huge ordeal, the charges were dropped, but I had been through the booking process, including being fingerprinted and having a mugshot taken.

    I cannot imagine the destruction to my life and career that would have occurred had this happened in a small town during the era of mugshots on the Internet. My future would have been severely damaged at age 20 through absolutely no fault of my own. I understand the public interest in publishing the names of people who are KNOWN to have criminal convictions, but destroying people after just an arrest, when they are still presumed to be innocent, is just wrong.

  9. I think for sure the practice should be toned down a notch, primarily because we have much more accessible ways to see public arrest records than ever before. But mostly I hope to see a more salvaged effort of lists with updates and the like so that people may gain insight to how the local jails operate and how things may go if they themselves are charged with a crime. In the current state of things though, we are in an uneasy middle, looking at most local papers.

    1. ^This.
      I write up the County Court convictions and the District grand jury indictments for our local newspaper. All the records, including most mugshots, are online and publicly accessible to anyone who knows where to look.

      1. If you have a Web site, do you include the outcomes of cases on the same page as the report of the arrest or charge, maybe with a big bolded “UPDADE” on top?

        1. Update – I meant to write “update”

    2. > toned down a notch

      The obvious answer is to tag those pages with a “noindex” tag. In theory, you can still specifically seek out the info, but it doesn’t show up in a random search.

      1. For the subset of people who use a search engine that honors the “noindex” tag. Google is not reliably among that list.

        Tests show that sometimes adding a “noindex” tag will eventually cause a page to drop from Google results and sometimes it will not. I am not aware of a definitive answer for that inconsistent behavior though I have read a number of theories about it. Google is notoriously close-mouthed about how their algorithms actually work.

        All that said, the sites that publish these blotter reports have no incentive to include a “noindex” tag. They want the publicity and the traffic.

        1. “Tests show that sometimes adding a “noindex” tag will eventually cause a page to drop from Google results and sometimes it will not”

          If you add the tag after the page has already been indexed… that would be the expected result.

          1. The “eventually” might be part of the expected result but the “sometimes it will not” part is definitely not.

            It’s also worth noting that the tests also included a sample of brand new pages created just for the test. That is, they could never have been indexed before. Sometimes the tag was honored – and sometimes not.

  10. If we wanted a fruitful public debate, how about the public’s lack of respect for the presumption of innocence until proven guilty? If we really followed that, there would be no negative consequences for someone accused but not convicted. But we all know that is not true. It was probably never true in our history, but it could become true if we worked at it.

    Case in point, Trump. I’m thinking the use of investigations as weapons and the eagerness to believe Trump guilty with no trial.

    1. ” how about the public’s lack of respect for the presumption of innocence until proven guilty?”

      The government is required to observe the presumption. The individual members of the public are not.

      O.J. was acquitted. I’m free to still believe he did it, though.

  11. Why don’t the courts prevent the harm these disclosures do by keeping all accusations secret until the day of trial?

    Certainly papers ought to publish them only after conviction.

    Then we should abolish plea bargaining so that prosecutors can’t bully the innocent into pleading guilty. With plea bargaining a prosecutor’s accusation is as good as a conviction, and that’s wrong.

    1. By all means, yes, let’s bring back the Star Chamber.

    2. Why don’t the courts prevent the harm these disclosures do by keeping all accusations secret until the day of trial?

      Because secret criminal proceedings are generally not considered conducive to liberty?

      1. You might want to understand what the phrase “the day of the trial” means.

        1. “You might want to understand what the phrase “the day of the trial” means.”

          It meas that the defendant has no time to prepare a defense, if you don’t disclose the accusation before you start the trial. Even “speedy trial” advocates wouldn’t push for your idea.

        2. You might want to understand what the phrase “criminal proceedings” means.

      2. Nieporent : Because secret criminal proceedings are generally not considered conducive to liberty?

        That seems to me to be eliding two very different things – the government’s desire for a secret criminal proceeding – which is indeed not conducive to liberty; and the accused’s desire for a secret criminal proceeding – which (if it exists) is perfectly consistent with liberty.

        There are other – non liberty related – public policy interests at stake of course – the victim’s and the public’s interest in seeing that the accused is not wrongly acquitted in a bent secret trial.

        1. ” the accused’s desire for a secret criminal proceeding – which (if it exists) is perfectly consistent with liberty.”

          Like hell it is. Trials are public for multiple reasons. One is so that we know the government has good reason(s) to punish the defendant… they present the evidence against the accused publicly, so the public knows what the government is acting on. But another reason to have public trials is to be sure that powerful individuals can’t corrupt the process. (OK, more honestly, so that powerful individuals have a harder time corrupting the process… being famous, wealthy, or connected all still give significant advantage in trial.)

    3. “With plea bargaining a prosecutor’s accusation is as good as a conviction, and that’s wrong.”

      Even without plea bargaining, some innocent people are wrongly convicted. Either with or without, the only innocent people who get convicted are ones where the available evidence tends to show guilt, even if it does so incorrectly.

      1. Indeed. I have been both a prosecutor and a defense attorney. I get tired of nitwits who know nothing about law saying we should never plea bargain.
        In order for a guilty plea to be accepted, the accused must explicitly state under oath that he committed the offense to which he is pleading.

        1. Some people do plead guilty to things they are factually innocent of, usually because circumstances make them look really guilty. Sometimes that’s the advice they get (often from an overworked PD who has eighty-seven other cases to manage.)
          It’s about risk management… take the five-to-seven offered, or risk being found guilty and getting eight-to-ten. While being actually innocent should have a bearing on this calculation, it doesn’t always. To use a fictional example pretty much everyone here should be expected to get, imagine “My Cousin Vinny” if Vinny’s girlfriend hadn’t come along on the trip.

  12. During the 1970s I was the publisher and editor of a weekly newspaper in a small town in Idaho, in the Sun Valley ski resort area. I decided then to make it policy that we would not publish arrest records in the majority of cases. Only if the person arrested was also a government official, or someone else of significance in public life (not a mere celebrity, such as an actor or band member) would we publish an arrest record.

    My reason was partly concern for people actually innocent, but the decision was more because I had encountered so many folks who thought an arrest was evidence of guilt, and said so. I was concerned that the newspaper not make that problem worse. I thought it was vital that everyone understand the presumption of innocence, and thought the newspaper had role to play. So that was explained when the newspaper announced the policy.

    Of course we did publish conviction records. And three times that I remember, when there was an especially entertaining true crime saga, the policy got laid aside. It helped that in all 3 instances there seemed to be no question about the guilt of the perpetrator(s).

    Initially, the policy was mildly controversial, and I got feedback from people on both sides. Then nobody discussed it anymore.

    There were two times when it did cause stress to hew to the policy. Once, when the only child of one of my staffers was struck and killed by a repeat-offender drunk driver, in a pedestrian accident. The other involved one of those true crime sagas, which the newspaper not only covered, but about which I also wrote an editorial, expressing the view that the defendants deserved harsh justice. Problem was, because the defense attorney knew about the newspaper’s usual policy, and liked it, I found myself on the jury for that one, even after recounting my editorial during jury selection. After the client was convicted, the attorney told me that he knew he had a tough case, and thought someone known as a defender of presumption of innocence was worth a long-shot jury selection.

    On balance, I think it was a good policy, and would do it again. The folks here suggesting that arrests be published, but the record be updated to reflect dropped charges or acquittals, should give thought to the practical implications of attempting that with the certain knowledge that you wouldn’t always be able to get the information needed to do the updates. Or that publications which did make that a practice, would nevertheless sometimes under-perform, or change policies, or go out of business while leaving loose ends among the records.

    1. I understand the reasoning, but it’s still another step on the march from, “We inform, you decide.” to “We curate, so you will agree with us.”; Deciding that true information shouldn’t be carried because it might cause your readers to arrive at a different conclusion from the one you want is a very dangerous road to walk for newpapers.

      Arguably that sort of reasoning lies behind most of the credibility problems the news media face, (And properly so!) today.

      1. Are you unhappy that the convictions of juveniles are sealed?

        1. I think that the convictions of juveniles should be unsealed on the occasion of their first adult crime. If they can stay on the right side of the law after they achieve majority, that’s a different matter, but if they can’t, unsealing the juvenile record provides context. It would greatly inform our discussions of the realities of crime, by, for instance, destroying the illusion that perfectly ordinary people suddenly commit murder.

          But the point wasn’t that all this information should be publicly available. It’s that newspapers deciding that the public should be shielded from true information because it might incline people to arrive at conclusions the paper doesn’t like is a dangerous way for newspapers to reason.

          1. How are your truth concerns attenuated for children?

            IMO this is about whether you think redemption is a possibility for criminals.
            Because publishing this stuff makes post-punishment life substantially more difficult for the individual, and marginally easier for businesses’ risk case.

            1. Obviously I recognize that, which is why I advocated unsealing in the case of people who continue to commit crimes after they’re adults. They’ve forfeited that concern.

              I don’t know how to say this more clearly: Deciding that the public shouldn’t learn truthful information because they might arrive at a different conclusion about it than the news media is a really bad way for the news media to be reasoning. It is the root cause of a huge amount of what’s wrong with them today: They think their job is dictating the conclusions we arrive at, not supplying us with information to reason with.

              1. I don’t like the idea that all felons or even accused felons have forfeited their future much at all.
                We have a system of punishment, no need to pile on.

                The truth is great, but operationally I’m not sure the social utility of this marginal additional information is outweighed by the just about inevitable damage it does to individuals.

              2. “I advocated unsealing in the case of people who continue to commit crimes after they’re adults. They’ve forfeited that concern.”

                Meh. Did they recidivate because they’re just criminals, or because they couldn’t catch a break post-release, when they tried to go straight? It takes time and effort to find a job, and you need a nest egg to live on while you do it. Convicts have a harder time finding work, and leave prison with, for most… not just no money, but debts related to their brush with the justice system.

          2. ‘might incline people to arrive at conclusions the paper doesn’t like’?

            Are you referring to the conclusion that accusation=guilt and that all those arrested are guilty. Isn’t that the reason he said he decided, as newspaper editor, not to publish all arrests? That’s a false conclusion, and nobody should like it. You are framing it as though the newspaper has an opinion they want everyone to reach, but he said his decision not to publish most arrests was based on a desire to avoid the false implication that those arrested are somehow already known to be guilty.

            1. Are you basing your argument on the hypothetical journalist who thinks the conclusions they disagree with are true, and their own conclusions false? Of course they’re trying to keep people from making “mistakes”, everybody thinks disagreeing with them is a mistake.

              I don’t know how to say this more strongly: I don’t want journalists curating what they report on the basis that the truth might cause people to arrive at different conclusions than the journalist himself. That they’ll think those different conclusions are false is a given, but, so what?

              Their job is to inform, not mold opinion to agree with their own.

              1. “Their job is to inform, not mold opinion to agree with their own.”

                Care to summarize what the difference might be?

              2. An arrest not being proof of guilt isn’t an opinion, its a fact. Are you unfamiliar with the distinction? Where are you getting lost here?

      2. True information, Brett? You are begging the question. That’s what we don’t know at the time of arrest, right? Whether the allegations are true or not?

        Criminal arrests are made every day on the basis of information that would never have passed my newspaper’s standards for truth in publishing. If we wouldn’t publish a damaging story about someone based on the state’s arresting information, why is it virtuous to publish the story just because the state did act where we wouldn’t?

        The state, in making its charges, relied on its own procedures to find out more later. Finding out more later is just what journalists ought to do too, when considering iffy stories. And stories for publication, especially potentially damaging stories, ought to stay on hold until information can be found either to support them, or to reject them.

        1. The true information is that John Doe has been arrested, and charged with aggravated mopery with intent to gawk. The conclusion you don’t want people to draw is that he’s guilty before the trial. Well, fine, remind people that an arrest isn’t a conviction.

          But the actual information published? True as can be.

          And let’s be serious here: The news media routinely publish dubious allegations with the intent that they be believed, and omit from the coverage information that might get in the way of that happening.

          The Covington teens story. The Trump hat toss story. And it goes back a lot further than the last couple of years.

          This is how new outlets lie, by honestly quoting lies, and curating away any information that might challenge the lie. By paraphrasing or quoting out of context, and not providing a link to the context.

          In almost all cases, the media’s crimes are crimes of omission.

          1. those ‘majority’ of people who equate arrest with guilt have all undoubtedly been told many times that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but they still don’t follow that maxim and do equate the two. The newspaper reminding them is not likely to help avoid the false conclusion that innevitably comes for so many people when you publish arrest records.

            1. People aren’t innocent until proven guilty. They’re entitled to be treated by the government as though they were innocent, until proven guilty. Nobody else is obligated to hire the accused pedophile as a babysitter, or whatever, just because they haven’t been convicted yet.

              1. Not everyone who is arrested is convicted, Brett. Your final sentence and entire line of reasoning (as presented) seems to ignore the category of people who are falsely accused of crimes and ignores the damage done to those people by publishing mugshots when people falsely conclude that all those accused are guilty.

                Obviously its not true that people are actually innocent until proven guilty. You may find that on balance its better to harm the innocent than to risk letting a person who is guilty get hired to the wrong position. That conclusion does nothing to support your implication that the newspaper is trying to get folks to reach some false conclusion. It was stated clearly that the goal was to avoid the false implication that all accused are guilty. Whats wrong with that goal?

                1. It was stated clearly that the goal was to avoid the false implication that all accused are guilty. Whats wrong with that goal?

                  Whether or not newspapers publish mugshots of accused persons is perfectly independent of the (false) implication – or more likely false inference – that all accused are guilty. That implication or inference can be refuted with a simple sentence stating that it is false.

                  What is at stake is not the general proposition about all accused but the question of whether the particular people whose mugshots are published are guilty. No doubt some will (wrongly) infer they all are, some will (rightly) infer that most of them are, and that consequently, as a matter of probability all of them are much likelier to be bad guys than the average Joe. That is another correct inference, albeit one that is uncomfortable to those accused who are in fact innocent.

                  “What is wrong with the goal” is that some newspapers may feel that alerting their readers to the identities and looks of people who are much more likely than average to be bad guys is a useful public service.

                2. “Not everyone who is arrested is convicted, Brett.”

                  The fact that someone was acquitted obliges the government; they are not allowed to levy punishment on the acquitted. This obligation does not extend to the general public.

                  The fact that Joe was acquitted of rape doesn’t imply that Mary has to date him.

      3. […] it’s still another step on the march from, “We inform, you decide.” to “We curate, so you will agree with us.”

        If that was ever a march, it finished a long time ago. Don’t confuse slogans for facts.

    2. Why should public officials get a pass, but not e.g. your child’s teacher?
      Sounds like the opposite of “speaking truth to power”, to me.
      Also, public officials are just as likely to be wrongly charged as anyone else.

  13. Memphis Commercial Appeal maintained a website so you could run a person’s name and get their handgun permit status and home address, treating the permit list as a public record and defending the people’s right to know who they should consider dangerous. One grateful reader thanked the paper for letting him know who he could shun. Tennessee gun rights group got the street address blocked from the public access database and pressured the Legislature to limit the database to law enforcement, judges, and prosecutors on a need-to-know basis.

    For awhile when the local paper reported criminal or reckless public use of firearms, they used to note near the end of the story the handgun carry permit status of the offender. It was always an illegal carrier without a permit, so that non-news seems to have stopped being reported on a regular basis.

    Recently, a man who came to his estranged wife’s work place and murdered her was threatening her employer and another worker. A customer with a carry permit shot him, disarmed him and detained him at gun point for arrest by responding police. The sheriff called the guy a hero. An op-ed in the newspaper said one guy with a carry permit maybe saving two lives did not justify the dangerous policy of allowing people to get permits to carry handguns in public. The gun safety crusaders want to repeal legal carry or at the very least make the carry permit list open to the general public so they can know who to avoid.

    1. They don’t want to just repeal legal carry. They want to ban the civilian possession of all firearms.

    2. “so they can know who to avoid.”

      You’re behind the times. The left has moved on from shunning to retaliation. They want to know who the gun owners are so that they can ruin their lives. Key their cars, camp on their front yards, get them fired…

    3. “The gun safety crusaders want to repeal legal carry or at the very least make the carry permit list open to the general public so they can know who to avoid.”

      SOME gun safety crusaders… would be more accurate.

      I’m not concerned at all with grownup people who handle their weapons like grownups. Alas, not all of the people who have reached the age of majority fully qualify as “adult”.

      The real danger of making the carry permit list open to the public is that it could encourage burglary committed by the sort of people who shouldn’t have guns, against households where there’s a pretty good reason to believe that at least one concealable firearm will be located.

      1. The real danger of making the carry permit list open to the public is that it could encourage burglary committed by the sort of people who shouldn’t have guns, against households where there’s a pretty good reason to believe that at least one concealable firearm will be located.

        And if the NRA’s propaganda is to be believed, they will then be shot by the gun-owners. Win-win for everyone, no?

        Alternatively, if you choose to believe the NRA’s other propaganda, having a gun in the home will steer burglars away from those households as they don’t want to be shot by the gun-owners. Win for the gun-owners at least.

        Seriously dude, criminals of all varieties like easy marks. If two houses are otherwise equal, but one has a giant friggin’ dog, and the other no pets at all, your’e going after the pet-free household as there’s less risk. Same with guns, they increase risk.

        1. International comparisons of burglary show that in the US the rate of “hot” burglaries, (Burglaries where the house is invaded while people are present.) is much, much lower than in countries like England where gun control prevails.

          Interviews with burglars in jail confirm that they deliberately avoid occupied houses out of fear of being shot.

          That’s good from the perspective that fewer people risk being harmed.

          And it’s not inconsistent with burglars targeting houses known to have valuable firearms, and taking care to show up when nobody is home…

          1. “International comparisons of burglary show that in the US the rate of ‘hot’ burglaries…”

            Because home invasion robberies are a different category of crime?

            Burglars like to be undiscovered while at work. Robbers, not so much.

            1. Look up the definitions of burglary and robbery.
              Your comment makes no sense.

              1. Your complaint about my comment makes no sense.

                1. Face to face contact is an element of robbery;
                  It is not an element of burglary.
                  If you “rob” the bank at night, it’s burglary, not robbery.
                  People who don’t deal in criminal law often don’t know the difference.
                  You appear to be one of those people.
                  Most of the time the burglar hopes to avoid face to face contact, but it’s in the end entirely fortuitous.
                  So there is a useful distinction between, to use the argot above, “hot” vs “cold” burglary.

        2. “Seriously dude, criminals of all varieties like easy marks”

          Seriously, dude, criminals like crimes that produce the goal that they were committed to obtain. If Joe Criminal wants to steal a gun, he wants to break into a house that has one in it rather than one that doesn’t.
          This is also why robbers tend to rob bank-banks rather than food banks, and why art thieves break into museums rather than comic-book stores.

  14. To answer the question, yes, media should publish whatever public information is available.

    However, the real question is: Should mugshots and arrest records be made available to the public?

    And I’d have to answer yes.

    1. To answer the question, yes, media should publish whatever public information is available

      I disagree. Media should be allowed to publish whatever public information is available, but as with all things we’re allowed to do, that isn’t the end of the matter. I can certainly see pros, and cons, as regards the public welfare. Publishing a photo may bring forward otherwise unknown witnesses. Or folk who were the subject of past crimes but did not report them. Muddy waters, for each media organ to determine and justify before the court of public opinion, or the narrower court of its readership.

      Should mugshots and arrest records be made available to the public?

      But here I’m much more doubtful. Nobody looks their best in a mugshot, and the mugshot has been taken, effectively, by force. It’s neither a voluntary photo, nor a photo taken while you are out and about in public, voluntarliy exposing your mug to the photographing community. It’s the fruit of government power and I’m rather doubtful that it is proper for the government to expose it to the world before the person is found guilty, or at all, if the finding is not guilty.

      Which is not to say, of course, that if Mr A.P. Edad is indicted, the organs of the press should not feel free to rummage around in publicly available data to find, and publish, pictures of the accused.

      1. ” the organs of the press should not feel free to rummage around in publicly available data to find, and publish, pictures of the accused.”

        One way of doing that is to rejigger the current balance between press freedom and copyright. News organizations are almost totally immune for using pictures without compensation (or permission) from the copyright holder. The first amendment is cited for this proposition. But the copyrights at issue are also backed by Constitutional text.

        I wouldn’t bet on wide acceptance of this notion, however.

        1. News organizations are almost totally immune for using pictures without compensation (or permission) from the copyright holder.

          James pollock, speaking as a former photo-journalist, former newspaper publisher, and current fine art photographer, that takes me by surprise. Can you say more about the basis for that assertion? Pretty sure it wasn’t always that way. If it has somehow become generally true now, I need to know more about it.

  15. As a matter of policy, I think publishing the information in print media, but not in the online media, is a even balance between the two.

    Arrest records are real, and if they occur in the very recent past/current day, they are of interest to the community. However, once a period of time goes by (a week or two), if there’s no further action, there’s less public interest.

  16. Crimes are news. Arrests are news. How the local police force spends its time is news. Newspapers should spend more time reporting news and less time worrying about how the readers might interpret it. It’s unfortunate that many people today don’t accept the principle of innocent until proven guilty, but only reporting on arrests of people who are likely to be guilty only exacerbates that problem. Mugshots, on the other hand, seem less newsworthy and I wouldn’t print them if I ran a paper.

  17. “The question is how they should exercise this right.”

    Depends on what they’re trying to accomplish.
    There is value in being aware that a person has been accused of a crime (if you run a bank branch, and you notice that one of your tellers has been accused of embezzling funds from another organization, this might suggest some auditing activities for the near future.)

    What is at issue here, I think, is the difference between printing something in the newspaper and publishing something on the web. Most people don’t retain newspapers. Something that appears today is yesterday’s news tomorrow. Whereas publishing it on the web, where things tend to stay available for far longer.

    The people who are complaining aren’t complaining because their mugshots were put on the WWW. They are complaining because they were LEFT on the WWW.

    1. If you want a “Right to be Forgotten”, then you should argue for it directly. Quibbling over the method with the intention of achieving that result just means that when some new development down the road comes along you’ll be failing at your objective.

  18. Many many years ago the NAACP campaigned for the Philadelphia newspapers…then the Inquirer and the Bulletin…to stop routinely publishing photographs of arrestees and of those who had been convicted of crimes, on the basis that the citizenry would “form the wrong conclusions” if the photos showed male African American faces disproportionately (which, as the NAACP concern demonstrated, they did). Newspapers in many other major urban areas were also so pressured and changed their editorial policies accordingly. I speculate that the same reasoning has made its way to the Deep South finally and is at least partially responsible for this editorial decision.

    1. Disproportionately to what? The population being arrested or convicted? Probably not.

      The NAACP didn’t want people to form the right conclusion.

      1. If black folks are more likely to be arrested than white folks, or more likely to be convicted than white folks, this forms the basis for two conclusions. Brett’s is one. The other is that white folks get a pass for things that black folks don’t.

        (If a cop comes across a racially-diverse group of people doing something, chooses to arrest Marcus and LaShawn but lets Patty, Virginia, Trevor and Andrew go about their way…)

        1. Victimization surveys tend to confirm my conclusion. Unless maybe you think blacks are claiming they’re being victimized by other blacks out of racist animus.

          1. “Victimization surveys tend to confirm my conclusion”

            So does your desire to cling to it. Neither is relevant, but you do you.

            1. So does your desire to cling to it. Neither is relevant, but you do you.

              Why would Brett’s hypothesised desire to cling to his conclusion tend to confirm it ?

              And assuming “neither” refers to (a) Brett’s desire and (b) victimisation surveys, why would (b) be irrelevant ?

              If Brett’s facts about victimisation surveys are right, then your hypothesis of police bias needs to be expanded to explain why victims share this bias.

              If Brett’s facts are wrong, you can set him straight.

              1. “Why would Brett’s hypothesised desire to cling to his conclusion tend to confirm it ? ”

                You’re unfamiliar with the notion that people who wish to reach a specific conclusion will tend to favor facts that support the conclusion, and ignore or rationalize facts that don’t? How quaint.

                “why would (b) be irrelevant ?”

                Because “relevant” is not one of the things that it is?

                “If Brett’s facts about victimisation surveys are right, then your hypothesis of police bias needs to be expanded to explain why victims share this bias.”

                Unless they’re not relevant. See if you can guess which way I lean on that question?

                1. people who wish to reach a specific conclusion will tend to favor facts that support the conclusion, and ignore or rationalize facts that don’t?

                  Sure, but that does nothing to confirm the conclusion, it merely increases the strength with which they adhere to an unconfirmed conclusion. (And I’m getting a a strong pot image here, btw.)

                  “Why would X not be relevant ?”
                  “Because it’s irrelevant”

                  is, as an argument, on the weak side of average, even for you.

                  1. “Sure, but that does nothing to confirm the conclusion”

                    The literal name for it is “confirmation bias”.

                    ” (And I’m getting a a strong pot image here, btw.)”

                    Put down your bong, then.

                2. My conclusion is that blacks get arrested at rates disproportionate to their share of the total population because they’re committing criminal acts at rates disproportional to the total population.

                  My argument is that this is demonstrated by the fact that victimization surveys confirm that, yes, even blacks say they’re victimized at a disproportionate rate by other blacks. And they presumably lack racial animus against members of their own race.

                  In what way is this not an objectively telling argument?

                  1. Brett, the implication that being black has some “objectively telling” relationship to being a criminal strikes me as less skeptical than it needs to be. I’m trying to be polite.

                    Blacks are objectively poorer than whites. Poor people of all races are thought to commit criminal acts at “rates disproportional to the total population.” Poor people are also know to be mistakenly (if not falsely) arrested at “rates disproportional to the total population.”

                    Repeat that reasoning, substituting “people who lead disorganized lives,” for “poor people.” For reasons that have a lot to do with history—and nothing at all to do with any inherent tendency based on race—black people, rich or poor, suffer disorganized lives at “rates disproportional to the total population.”

                    Mug shots fairly reliably disclose blackness, but not those other factors. Foolish people tend to fixate on the blackness. So there is that.

                    Lest those remarks above alarm you that I am once again indulging anti-racism in an attempt to “curate” the news, I can assure you that during my entire newspaper publishing career in central Idaho, there was never an instance where a black person was arrested, and I did not publish the mug shot. See if you can figure out why.

  19. ithe citizenry would “form the wrong conclusions” if the photos showed male African American faces disproportionately (which, as the NAACP concern demonstrated, they did).

    Disproportionately to what ? Population statistics ? Or conviction statistics ? And if yes to the former and no to the latter, in what sense would the citizenry be forming “the wrong conclusions ?”

    1. I placed the phrase in quotation marks to indicate that the conclusions were ones the NAACP didn’t want people to draw, or feared people would draw, from the information presented, whether or not the conclusions were objectively right or wrong. Lots of groups probably wish that the media would refrain from reporting certain facts which might reflect poorly on their group. This particular decision by editors of key media outlets is an early example of those editors deciding not to make the photos/ information available, even without comment, on the assumption that their readers, or a portion of them, would be reinforced in opinions that those editors didn’t want them to have.

      1. Understood, thank you.

  20. I think the Sixth Circuit’s 2016 opinion in Detroit Free Press v. DOJ
    https://casetext.com/case/detroit-free-press-inc-v-us-dept-of-justice-2
    explains why in the internet age, mug shots should not be publicly disclosed. In a 1996 opinion, the Sixth Circuit had ruled mug shots were subject to disclosure. It reversed that ruling 20 years later explaining”
    “A disclosed booking photo casts a long, damaging shadow
    over the depicted individual. In 1996, when we decided
    Free Press I, booking photos appeared on television or
    in the newspaper and then, for all practical purposes,
    disappeared. Today, an idle internet search reveals the
    same booking photo that once would have required
    a trip to the local library’s microfiche collection. 1 In
    fact, mug-shot websites collect and display booking
    photos from decades-old arrests: BustedMugshots and
    JustMugshots, to name a couple.”

    1. Good comment Ramer. You left out that folks who publish mugshots can then extort their targets to pay up to have the published photo taken down.

  21. I think as a matter of public policy mugshots of arrestees should not be discoverable under applicable public records laws. The purpose of a “mug shot” is to identify the person being accused of the crime so that person can be identified later in court and to reduce the chances of falsely accusing someone of a similar name, etc. This is similar to other police investigative materials which are usually not subject to public records disclosures.

    My calculus changes up a little when/if that person is convicted of a crime. But up until that point I see little reason, at least in terms of public policy, why a visual depiction of that person needs to be in the public record.

    1. >The purpose of a “mug shot” is to identify the person

      The mug shot also allows viewers to determine the race of the accused.

      IMHO, that’s a bad thing, but I suspect I’m in very much in the minority in that opinion; we live in the age of identity politics.

      1. “The mug shot also allows viewers to determine the race of the accused.”

        Cross-racial identifications are known to be substantially less reliable. Victim identifications are known to be less reliable, in general, than is commonly assumed.

    2. ” The purpose of a ‘mug shot’ is to identify the person being accused of the crime so that person can be identified later in court and to reduce the chances of falsely accusing someone of a similar name.

      The purpose of a mug shot is to allow witnesses to other crimes to identify whether or not THEIR criminal is one already known to police.

      It has nothing to do with accusing someone of a similar name (falsely or not).

      They also come in handy if the suspect jumps bail or becomes wanted on another matter. Cops can issue a BOLO for (mugshot).

      1. Yes one purpose of a mugshot is to help correctly identify the person who has been arrested and charge with a crime. In fact that was the original intent on taking photos of arrestees. Proper identification. They are of course used for other legitimate forms of law enforcement but the original purpose was to make sure the person who was arrested could be identified later (fingerprinting was also a form of ensuring proper identification of arrestees.)

  22. I don’t think publishing mug shots of arrestees is a good idea because it’s too damning and even if the news organization takes it down, the internet never forgets, especially with facial recognition. Perhaps with an exception for truly noteworthy persons.

    On the other hand, I think it’s important for police transparency to publish the daily police blotter, perhaps with names redacted or last names omitted. This is also important for the gathering of statistics.

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