Oregon lawmakers pass bill placing limits on release of jail booking photos

Police could also share these photos with the state mental hospital if the defendant is admitted, share them with the victim of the crime or release them if the suspect is convicted for the crime.

Posted: Jun 14, 2021 1:35 PM
Updated: Jun 14, 2021 6:50 PM

OREGON -- A bill was passed by Oregon lawmakers Wednesday that would change how jail booking photos are released. House Bill 3273 was passed by Democrats in the Oregon Senate and would place restrictions on the release of the images.

There are, of course, exceptions. Under the bill, law enforcement can release booking photos under these specified circumstances: directly to the person who was booked, to another law enforcement agency, to the public if it will assist with the arrest of a suspect, or in an attempt to identify other suspected crimes.

Police could also share these photos with the state mental hospital if the defendant is admitted, share them with the victim of the crime or release them if the suspect is convicted for the crime.

“Publish-for-pay” publications would have to remove and destroy the booking photo once requested. Upon failure to remove, a fee of no more than $50 could be on the line and a civil suit could be filed.

KEZI 9 News talked to Jennifer Lang Perkins, a local attorney in Eugene.

“Booking photos happen at the earliest point in a criminal case, before a shred of proof has been presented in a court of law,” Perkins said. “Sometimes on just the verbal accusation of one person. There is a percentage of people who are arrested and booked, yet never charged or indicted. Then another percentage whose cases are dismissed outright after additional investigation. Yet another percentage who go through a period of more thorough investigation before settling into the right -- often different -- charges and then enter a plea. Then another set of cases that go all the way to trial and are acquitted.”

She said this is an important bill that’s long overdue.

“I’ve had clients lose their jobs, relationships, struggle to find new employment, rejected from housing opportunities, grants, scholarships, forever maligned by charges that lacked real merit, because their photo was flashed online prematurely,” Perkins said. “For decades to come, haunted by the court of public opinion, when the real case never passed muster to reach the level of conviction. Where proof beyond a reasonable doubt -- which is supposed to be the standard -- was never met.”

KEZI 9 News also spoke to Tim Gleason, who is a professor of journalism at the University of Oregon.

“It’s always a concern when information that is in the public domain is removed from the public domain,” Gleason said.

He said the signing of the bill would mean the public and news publications would get less access than they did before the bill, but he recognizes the current system can be abused.

“That abuse is being attacked or addressed by denying all of us access to information that in some instances may be very important to you know to the general public to know,” Gleason said.

KEZI also spoke to Tom Bivins, who is a professor and the John L. Hulteng Chair in Media Ethics at the University of Oregon.

“The problem with doxxing is the insinuation goes farther than that,” Bivins said. “It says, alright, you were arrested. Let's look at what that was for and dig into your life.”

He said a mugshot doesn’t mean you’re guilty or that you’ve been accused of something.

“No one's life should be ruined over a single incident,” Bivins said.

Michael Weber, the co-owner of the Facebook Page Lane County Mugshots and the website Oregon Crime News told KEZI that the public has a right to see the mugshots.

“Having the mugshots does solve other crimes when people are trying to identify people who have been in their backyards, stolen vehicles or committed other crimes,” Weber said.

Weber made it clear that they have never and will never charge someone for the removal of their mugshot.

“We follow a current law that says if a person’s charges were dismissed, dropped or they were acquitted of them -- that we will remove the mugshot if they ask us,” Weber said. “There is no cost involved. There’s no hidden fee. All they have to do is go to our website, click mugshot removal and follow the instructions.”

He said the site is a benefit to the communities up and down the Interstate 5 corridor.

Sen. James Manning Jr. (D-Eugene) co-carried the bill and is a former law enforcement officer.

"A photo can ruin your life,” Manning Jr. said. “Disproportionately, those who are picked up by law enforcement are BIPOC Oregonians, folks who look like me. One photo should not determine your future. In addition, we’ve seen booking photos used to harass and intimidate individuals who have been exercising their right to peacefully assemble in the name of racial justice and it’s impacted their employment and their ability to exist and move freely in their communities.”

Sen. Floyd Prozanski chairs the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Measure 110 Implementation.

“These booking photos end up on predatory websites long before an individual is convicted of a crime and have even been used to extort money from innocent individuals.“Time and again we have seen these photos distributed to cause harm and create bias against individuals. These photos can be important for law enforcement, but they shouldn’t harm one’s opportunity to succeed and contribute to their community."

House Bill 3273 is on its way to Gov. Kate Brown’s desk for signature. CLICK HERE to read the bill.

“The very nature of flashing someone’s photo online or in print at the moment of accusation belies our American principle of “innocent until proven guilty,” Perkins said.

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