Perry introduces bill to prevent release of mug shots before conviction

Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice is considering testimony about S.B 509 to keep mug shots confidential until a person has been convicted of a crim
Published: Apr. 5, 2023 at 2:32 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 5, 2023 at 6:35 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - The Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice is considering testimony about Senate Bill 509, authored by Senator Charles Perry, to keep mug shots confidential until a person has been convicted of a crime.

“When someone is arrested...their mugshot shows up on TV without a trial, without any correspondence or communication of what’s going on there. I think it is a bias,” Perry told KCBD.

The bill allows for a few exceptions, including if a suspected criminal is considered a fugitive or dangerous to the public. A judge could also rule the mug shot be released in the interest of law enforcement.

“Mug shots are crucial form of record keeping in order to track criminal convictions,” Perry told the committee. “However, mug shots can also cause long-term reputational damage to a person if charges are eventually dropped, dismissed or if the person is found not guilty. Pre-conviction, publicly available mug shots are often sensationalized by the media and dangerously erode the constitutional guarantee that a defendant is always innocent until proven guilty.”

Perry offered a substitute bill at the March 21 committee meeting that would also impose civil penalties, or a fine, for entities that publish a confidential mug shot but also allow a two-year period for those entities to come into compliance with the new law, which could take effect Sept. 1, at the latest, if passed.

“I think it biases the jury,” Perry testified. “I think it is a problem in the world we live in today where access to things electronically is rampant and in other venues it pops up. I don’t think it does public good.”

Reid Pillifant, an attorney, testified against the bill on behalf of the Texas Association of Broadcasters, the Texas Press Association and the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

“Booking photos help to inform the public about who is being arrested and charged with crime,” Pillifant said. “In Texas, booking photos have been around for more than 100 years. As with the vast majority of states, they have always been available to the public.”

Pillifant told the committee that suspected criminals often wait years for their trial. He also put the bill into historical perspective.

“One of our member newspaper editors told me if this bill had been law on November 22, 1963, we would not have been able to legally publish the mugshot of Lee Harvey Oswald,” Pillifant said. “In fact, under this bill, the Dallas Police Department would still not be able to release the mugshot of Lee Harvey Oswald because he was never convicted of that crime.”

Perry said SB 509 is not a priority bill for him and is one that was not proposed to him, but rather an issue that came to mind.

“I don’t think it adds to the process, and on the contrary, I think it could be detrimental to the due process that we all hold near and dear to our hearts,” Perry told KCBD.

To learn more about the bill, click here.