Blogs » Your Advocate: an editor's blog » Do suspects charged with a federal crime have a right to privacy?


Most people are used to seeing the jail booking photos of those arrested and charged with a crime.

That's because information about arrests, for the most part, are public record. Our founding fathers created an open court system as a check-and-balance to prevent abuses like those of the Spanish Inquisition. The public's business is best done in the light of day.

However, two conflicting judicial opinions have led the U.S. Marshal's Office to stop releasing mug shots of those accused of federal crimes. Even though most other information about the case against federal suspects is available, the logic for withholding the mug shots is based on the right to privacy.

The Associated Press Media Editors, the American Society of News Editors, the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press and most other media organizations have challenged the Marshal's Office's position. (Disclaimer: I am a member of the national APME board.)

“This policy change runs counter to legal precedent, Justice Department FOIA guidelines, and the law,” Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce D. Brown said in a press release. “We are hearing of reporters’ requests for booking photos being rejected on privacy grounds after defendants have appeared in open court. We don’t see any justification for this.”

The situation touches the Crossroads, too, where the Victoria Advocate has been unable to obtain the mug shots of federal suspects. Should criminal suspects have this right to privacy?