Thursday, July 17, 2003
Sheriffs May Release ‘Mug Shots’ To the Public, Lockyer Opines
By a MetnewsStaff Writer
A sheriff may release a suspect’s booking photo, or “mug shot,” to the press and public, Attorney General Bill Lockyer has concluded.
In an opinion made public late Tuesday, the attorney general told Contra Costa Sheriff Warren Rupf that he may release a booking photo if he wishes, but that if he does so, the photo becomes a public record and a copy must be made available to anyone who asks.
The attorney general explained that mug shots are “records of investigations,” and are thus exempt from mandatory disclosure under the California Public Records Act. But because release of mug shots would not violate the privacy clause of the California Constitution as interpreted in past state Supreme Court decisions, the sheriff has discretion to release it, Lockyer said.
The attorney general acknowledged that arresting agencies are required by the CPRA to make public certain information regarding persons they arrest—including the person’s name, occupation, and physical description—unless such disclosure would endanger a witness or imperil the agency’s investigation of the events leading to the arrest.
But he added that “[i]n disclosing information about an arrest, the records from which such information is derived remain exempt from disclosure under” the CPRA. Once disclosure is made to any member of the public, however, the exemption is waived, the attorney general cautioned.
The opinion, No. 03-205, was prepared for Lockyer by Deputy Attorney General Thomas S. Lazar.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company