AG Jackley’s Legalized Extortion Bill

At the request of Attorney General Jackley, Senate Bill 25 would make any criminal booking photograph a public record.  AG Marty Jackley says of the bill:

“The release of criminal booking photographs to the public will result in greater transparency in the criminal process, enhance public safety, and will further assist the media and the public in the proper identification of individuals in the criminal   process,”

The facts of the matter, are that this bill is full of unintended consequences:

There’s an entire industry that publishes booking photos from law enforcement agencies.  They publish the photos in tabloids and through websites, and then profit by forcing people to pay exorbitant  fees to remove the photos.  It’s similar to extortion, and it would be perfectly legal under AG Jackley’s bill.

AG Jackley testified before the Senate Judiciary that 48 states already have public booking photo records. What he failed to mention, however, is that many states are dealing with problems associated with their public booking photos. In just the last three years alone, 10 states have passed new laws regulating the commercial mugshot industry and/or adding protections for individuals not convicted of crimes. And in Connecticut, their Supreme Court ruled that police are no longer required to release booking photos. This bill doesn’t account the problems that other states are currently experiencing.

Senate Judiciary testimony from the SD Newspaper Association lamented on the fact that media must now take their own photos of the accused during what they referred to as a “perp-walk”. They argued that public booking photos would be more convenient and better quality. While this is true, requiring the media to take their own photos and video offers some protections. First, the media only makes an effort to takes pictures in high profile cases, thereby limiting the amount of photos in the public domain. Also, photos and video captured by the media are copy-righted so that they can’t be exploited by the commercial mug-shot industry.

The proliferation of booking photos on the internet and though media can have a profound impact on an individual.  They can compromise future job interviews and standing in professional relationships.  Booking photos often occur during the lowest time in an individual’s life.  For people convicted of a crime who have served their time, those booking photos could remain on the internet and be a constant source of shame and humiliation.  It’s in South Dakota’s best interest for ex-cons to find good jobs and become productive members of society after they’ve served their time.  Why would we want to make that more difficult?

This bill does not distinguish between innocent and guilty people.  Innocent people will be publicly shamed and their reputations tarnished.  There’s example after example of individuals being arrested for crimes that they did not commit.  The burden of repairing a damaged reputation and paying the extortion fees for booking photo web site removal is not one that South Dakota should place on innocent individuals.

Finally, this bill does not serve a public need.  Despite what AG Jackley stated, I’ve seen no evidence that this bill would, “result in greater transparency in the criminal process or enhance public safety”.  And the only reason that we’d need to “further assist the media and the public in the proper identification of individuals in the criminal  process” is if an individual became a fugitive in which case the law already allows for the release of booking photos.

At the time of this writing, the bill has already passed the SD Senate.  Please urge your representative to vote against this bill.

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