Newspaper wins appeal over getting federal mug shots


DETROIT (AP) — The government must release mug shots of federal criminal defendants in Michigan and three other states, an appeals panel said Wednesday in a clash over privacy and public records.

A three-judge panel at a federal appeals court said it must follow a 1996 decision that released photos to the Detroit Free Press in a similar dispute. Nonetheless, it also encouraged the U.S. Justice Department to keep fighting.

The panel suggested the government should ask the full 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to take a new look at the 1996 precedent, especially in the Internet age.

“We question the … conclusion that defendants have no interest in preventing the public release of their booking photographs during ongoing criminal proceedings,” said judges Ralph Guy Jr., Deborah Cook and David McKeague.

The federal Freedom of Information Act says the government can reject a records request if the material could “constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy.”

“Booking photographs convey the sort of potentially embarrassing or harmful information protected by the exemption,” the court said.

The Free Press sued in 2013 after the U.S. Marshals Service declined to release photos of police officers charged with corruption. The newspaper argued that the public has a legitimate interest in seeing who has been charged with a crime. It cited the ‘96 decision.

The Marshals Service stopped giving photos to news media in Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee and Kentucky — the states covered by the 6th Circuit — in 2012. The government cited privacy and felt emboldened by federal appeals courts elsewhere in the U.S. that had ruled against the release of mug shots in those regions.

The opinion released Wednesday stems from a judge’s decision in favor of the Free Press in 2014. No photos have been released, however, because U.S. District Judge Patrick Duggan wanted to give the government an opportunity to appeal.

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