Release mug shots, federal appeals panel says

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

A federal appeals panel upheld a lower court ruling that forces the U.S. Marshals Service to release booking photos of people charged in criminal cases in Michigan and three other states.

The appeals panel, however, urged the 6th Circuit to reconsider whether an exemption should apply to prevent the release of booking photos that “may embarrass, humiliate or otherwise cause mental or emotional anguish to private citizens.”

The opinion by a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ends a years-long battle led by the Detroit Free Press. The paper sued the Justice Department in 2013 after the Marshals Service denied a reporter’s request for booking photos of Detroit-area police officers indicted on federal charges.

“Booking photographs convey the sort of potentially embarrassing or harmful information protected by the exemption: they capture how an individual appeared at a particularly humiliating moment immediately after being taken into federal custody,” appeals Judges Ralph Guy, Deborah Cook and David McKeague wrote.

The opinion covers Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

The U.S. Marshals Service typically only releases mug shots for "fugitive apprehension purposes."

Under a 1996 ruling by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the department has been required to release mug shots. That upheld a ruling by U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit ordering the release of the photographs in a 1993 lawsuit.

Despite the 1996 ruling, the Marshals Service refused to release mug shots, arguing national media organizations exploited the policy by using “straw man” requesters in the four states to obtain photos in other jurisdictions.