The New Jersey Assembly recently introduced legislation that would make it illegal for police officers and law enforcement to publicly post photos—either in person or on the Internet—of arrested persons before they have been convicted of a crime. The bill, A-3906, seeks to make mug shots exempt from the Open Public Record Act (OPRA), except in certain extenuating circumstances, pending a criminal investigation. Criminal lawyers in New Jersey say that the legislation would protect suspects who are arrested but later released from being continually associated with criminal behavior.
The bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Angel Fuentes, D-Camden, hopes to cut down on public distribution of mug shots, which he says is damaging to a suspect’s professional and personal life - especially if the charges are later dropped or the person is found to be innocent. If A-3906 is passed, police officers would only be permitted to release mug shot photos for reasons of public safety or enforcement purposes. So far, the New Jersey Assembly voted 70-10 in favor of the bill, and S-3046, an identical piece of legislation sponsored by Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, is pending in the state’s Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.
With the increasing reliance on the Internet as a news source and media outlet, photos like mug shots can quickly become viral, and spread throughout the state, and even across the country. For suspects who are ultimately never found guilty of the crimes with which they have been charged, this widespread notoriety can have a lasting negative impact on future job opportunities, personal relationships, and online presence. Facial recognition software compares similar features and images in Internet photos to connect potential matches, and this software can make it hard for the arrestee to make their mug shot disappear, or create an online profile separate from that image.
The New Jersey Press Association has publically opposed the bill, and NJPA Executive Director George White has stated that the legislation opposes the state’s “long-standing, strong policy of open government, including ready access to government records, as set forth in OPRA.” Others who oppose the bill point to potential ambiguity caused by only publishing first and last names of arrested suspects, without photo identification as well. Many other states publish full arrest information, regardless of whether the person has been found guilty or not. However, criminal lawyers in New Jersey say that the clarity provided by putting a face with a name may come back to haunt arrestees—even if they do not deserve the bad press.
Supporters of the bill say that the “open government” policy should extend to public protection and the sharing of established criminal records. Mug shots of arrestees who have not yet been found guilty do not fall under that category. If Gov. Chris Christie signs A-3906, New Jersey will become one of the few states in which booking photos are off-limits to the press, for use in paper publications and online.
At New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our criminal attorneys serve persons who have been arrested in connection with a crime and need representation. Contact an HCK lawyer for a consultation today.