Bill pushes to make mugshots confidential

Bill pushes to make mugshots confidential
Bill pushes to make mugshots confidential(KFYR-TV)
Published: Jan. 25, 2021 at 7:13 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - We’ve been accustomed to seeing the mug shot of an accused criminal on T.V. or online, but there’s a proposal at the state Capitol to keep those pictures confidential unless or until a person has been convicted.

All mug shots would be kept confidential unless law enforcement feels there is a compelling public safety interest warranting the release.

However, legislators say if it is not justified, police could be penalized. Managing Director of ND Watchdog Network Dustin Gawrylow said he spent 48 hours at the Burleigh Morton Detention Center.

He was released and never charged, yet his booking photo was still made public.

“My mugshot had circulated around the world and in-fact some Legislators had been passing it around as well,” said Gawrylow.

Finding mugshots online is easy. Many North Dakota jails have booking photo rosters online, such as the Burleigh Morton Detention Center.

“It’s a statement of guilty for the rest of your life because the internet lives forever,” said Adam Martin, F5 Project executive director.

Those who are in favor of the bill say mugshots could taint jury pools.

One attorney disagrees.

“Trials are delayed for sometimes a year later, six, eight, ten months. And so in that case, the public’s memory is short and so the story they may have seen in January about a crime that is being tried in September or October time and again, witnesses have said no I don’t remember those stories,” said Attorney Jack McDonald.

Primary sponsor Shannon Roers Jones says the discretion to release the photos is up to the law enforcement agency.

“The policy decision that law enforcement will come up with is based on what they think the risk is to the public,” said Roers Jones.

However, the bill carries a possible penalty.

“That is very concerning to our law enforcement,” said Donnell Preskey, executive director of the North Dakota Sheriff’s and Deputies Association.

If a photo is released without compelling public safety, the person who distributed it can be charged with a misdemeanor.

A suspect can file a confidentiality civil case against the agency who released the booking photo. Other instances in which a mugshot could be made public include the suspect failing to appear for court, is a fugitive from justice or is convicted of the offense they were arrested for.

The committee amended part of the bill adding booking photos can be dispersed among law enforcement agencies.

Committee Chairman Mike Lefor requested more research into the definition of inmate and compelling and to meet with the Sheriff’s Association regarding concerns over the fine.

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