Bill could strip public’s right to view mugshots

ATLANTA — A bill pending in the Georgia House of Representatives coincides with recommendations out of a Senate committee that the Georgia Open Records Act should be amended to bar arrest booking photos from being released to the public.

House Bill 845, introduced by Rep. Brian Strickland (R – McDonough) would amend the Act to prohibit arrest booking photos from being released to the public and, in effect, the news media, unless the individual in the photograph has been convicted of a crime.

Meanwhile, the Senate Expungement Reform Study Committee released a report Dec. 31, outlining its findings and recommendations that include a similar amendment to the Open Records Act.

The senate committee’s recommendations go a step further than HB 845, suggesting that information gathered in a suspect’s initial booking following arrest should be excluded from information that must be disclosed pursuant to a valid open records request.

“Access to booking information and mugshots should be limited to use in the defense and prosecution of criminal offenses and by law enforcement agencies,” the report said. “The information should not be made available to the public.”

The committee’s report also lists several recommendations to develop simpler, more uniform provisions for the way many judicial documents are handled.

If state legislators follow the recommendations, landlords and employers would not be allowed to consider the criminal history of individuals who have been arrested for a crime without having been convicted.

The guidelines, if made policy, would also expidite the process for restricting or expunging criminal records.

According to the committee report, inconsistencies are prevalent in the way criminal history records are maintained across state and local law enforcement agencies and court clerks.

Part of the problem, according to the committee’s findings, is that computer systems used by major stakeholders in the state’s criminal justice system, particularly at the local level, are inadequate to properly process, correct and update criminal history information.

“This gap in information technology severely hampers the ability of sheriffs, court clerks, prosecutors and the GBI to interface and maintain complete criminal records that fully reflect the disposition of a criminal charge,” the report said. “This failure, in turn, increases the likelihood that inaccurate information will be accessed by law enforcement agencies and those performing criminal background checks.”

– By Kelsey Cochran, originally published in the Henry Daily Herald Jan. 28, 2014.

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