State legislators in Utah approved a new bill on Wednesday that would prohibit the release of mug shots until the arrested individual has been convicted of the crime.
Rep. Keven Stratton of Utah’s 48th District, who sponsored House Bill 228, told The Salt Lake Tribune that it would protect individuals from “the virtual scarlet letter” that premature releases of mug shots can place on those who have not had their day in court.
HB 228 contains language that would allow law enforcement to release a mug shot to the public if it could be determined that a previously arrested individual had become a fugitive or deemed a threat to public safety. The bill does not specify what criteria would determine if an individual had become a threat to public safety.
Artur Azizyan, an international studies major at Salt Lake Community College, is unsure whether alleged criminals needed this kind of protection.
“[A mug shot] should be made public, if you’re arrested for a crime people should be made aware so they can be safe,” Azizyan said.
Other SLCC students also have concerns about how this new bill would affect public safety.
“It’s good and bad,” said Grace Hallam, a secondary education major. “Good because people’s privacy is important, but bad because there could be someone out on bail that could be a danger to people, especially underaged kids.”
Other students, like Valeta Stigers, a general studies major, are very concerned with protecting the privacy of those accused.
“I had a brother who was falsely accused of a crime,” Stigers said. “He was acquitted, but it was a nightmare for him dealing with his mug shot being online. Tons of people just thought he was this criminal person. It’s really hard for people to deal with that.”
Stratton noted in his introduction of the bill that in today’s high-tech world, the rapid spread of mug shots could affect potential jurors in the cases of these individuals and that this further necessitated the proposed legislation.
Gavin Allen, SLCC business major, agrees that mug shots could unnecessarily interfere in court cases.
“I think it would greatly decrease the possibility of there being bias of any kind,” he said.
Mug shots released to the public before an alleged person goes to court could be seen by those who may become jurors in their case and assume guilt on the person.
The new bill has received support from the Utah chapter of Black Lives Matter, who said that mug shots of people of color were disproportionately used by news outlets, per The Tribune.
Conversely, the bill is opposed by some members of Utah’s Media Coalition, which The Salt Lake Tribune is a part of.
“The news media is not in the business of publishing booking photos to make money,” FOX 13 News Director Marc Sternfield told The Tribune. “We’re not in the business of publishing mug shots just because we can. We’re not in the business of shaking down criminal suspects just to have their mug shots removed from our website. As journalists, our business is transparency and accountability.”
HB 228 passed unanimously will go through a final procedural vote before the governor will sign it into law or decide to veto.