Book’em Danno (but don’t release the photos in Washington)
Hawaii Five-O fans will remember most episodes ending with the phrase “Book ‘em Danno.” In Hawaii, police booking photos (or mug shots) are subject to public disclosure. They aren’t in Washington.
The state’s Sunshine Committee met today and had a very spirited discussion about this practice and whether police booking photos should be subject to public disclosure.
A bill was introduced last year (HB 2115) to make these photos available to the public but it was not voted on.
A recommendation offered today by Sunshine Committee member Rowland Thompson would not only require booking photos to be posted publicly on an agency website but also:
- Name of charging agency;
- Any warrant information;
- The actual amount of any booking fee assessed and collected, and the procedure for requesting a refund;
- The bond type and dollar amount if set by the court;
- Sentence and fines, if imposed by the court;
- Jail visiting information; and
- Name of the court with jurisdiction and court location, Docket or cause number, and next court hearing, if available.
Testifying against this recommendation were the strange bedfellows of the Washington chapter of the ACLU and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office.
ACLU representative Doug Klunder raised these objections:
- Privacy interest and right of accused to get a fair trial would be impacted.
- Release of photos can be prejudicial to defendant.
- All release of booking photo does is “throw person out for public shame.”
He did say, however, that the ACLU may be OK with the other information besides the booking photos being publicly available.
Also testifying was Craig Adams, Legal Adviser to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office. Agreeing with the ACLU, Adams noted:
- Three ways photos can already be released: 1) consent of inmate, 2) by court order, or 3) to help solve a crime (as was done in theMaurice Clemmons case).
- Pierce County doesn’t make it a policy to entrench on privacy concerns – not everyone booked gets charged – not everyone charged gets convicted.
- Urged committee to consider ACLU concerns – believes current statute is working well.
Adams also said that besides the booking photos he had no “heartburn” over the other information being publicly available.
Testifying in favor of public release for booking photos was citizen and public records advocate Arthur West.
The Sunshine Committee did not take action on the recommendation today but will vote on the proposal at a future meeting.
Also discussed at today’s meeting was a proposal by Frank Garred to refine the state’s attorney-client privilege exemption from public disclosure.
Due to a lengthy debate between the committee members the decision was made to form a subcommittee (made up of Sen. Adam Kline, Ramsey Ramerman and Garred) to try to come up with a consensus proposal.
Prior to forming the subcommittee, Roselyn Marcus (Office of Financial Management) reminded the members that those serving on any subcommittee would not receive travel reimbursement due to the state’s financial situation.
This lead Rowland Thompson to joke that based on the severe disagreement between the committee members on the issue of attorney client privilege perhaps the Governor could declare the Sunshine Committee a disaster area (thus making it eligible for funds).
Disaster or not, the subcommittee’s discussion on attorney-client privilege will be held in public meetings with times and location to be announced.
Jason Mercier is the director of the Center for Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center. He serves on the Executive Committee of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force and is a contributing editor of the Heartland Institute’s Budget & Tax News. Mercier also serves on the board of the Washington Coalition for Open Government and was an adviser to the 2002 Washington State Tax Structure Committee.