Judge rules for newspaper in mug shot dispute case

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DETROIT (AP) — A federal judge has ordered the government to turn over mug shots of criminal defendants to the Detroit Free Press.

U.S. District Judge Patrick Duggan ruled in favor of the newspaper, which sued last year when the U.S. Marshals Service rejected a request for photos of police officers charged with corruption. But Duggan also suspended his ruling Monday to give the government time to appeal.

The Free Press noted that the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Michigan and three other states, said in 1996 that mug shots must be released as public records. Duggan said those decisions must be followed, even if the U.S. Justice Department has won similar cases elsewhere in the country based on privacy concerns.

“The law in this circuit has been clear since 1996,” he said.

The government can go to a higher court if it doesn’t like what the 6th Circuit has ordered, Duggan said.

Messages seeking comment were left with the Justice Department.

“This is our third lawsuit, so we can only hope that three strikes against the Department of Justice and they will be out,” Free Press attorney Herschel Fink told the newspaper.

The public “has a legitimate interest in seeing who has been arrested and charged with a crime … and a vital interest in knowing about crime and law enforcement,” he said.

Although the Free Press brought the challenge, Duggan’s decision would apply to other news organizations in Michigan seeking mug shots from the government.

In a court filing in November, the government said dramatic changes in technology have raised concerns about privacy.

“An 18-year-old arrested for a federal misdemeanor who appeared in court, pled guilty, did community service, and had his or her record expunged, could find his or her booking photograph immortalized on the Internet for every would-be employer to see for many years to come,” Justice Department attorney Galen Thorp said.

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Information from: Detroit Free Press, http://www.freep.com

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