Ban on distributing mug shots moves forward in NH

The bill allows photos to be released if the suspect poses an "immediate danger" to the public

By Kevin Landrigan
The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester

CONCORD — Law enforcement would be prevented from releasing post-arrest mug shots of suspects with limited exceptions, under a bill a state Senate committee endorsed Tuesday.

Both civil libertarians and some social conservatives endorsed this cause (HB 125) as they maintained it was an unfair invasion of privacy to publish an image on the internet for those who were later exonerated of a crime.

"The whole point of innocence until proven guilty is not to enter those proceedings in a prejudiced manner by the introduction of a photograph," said Sen. Jay Kahn, D- Keene. "The bill as it is presented is acceptable to me."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sharon Carson, R- Londonderry, opposed the majority on her committee; she said it could limit the effectiveness of law enforcement.

"I can't support this bill; I see it as transparency, I see it as informing the public," Carson said. "It's kind of like the secret police where people are going to be arrested and nobody is going to know who they are."

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted, 3-2, in support of the bill.

Those supporting it were Sens. Becky Whitley, D- Hopkinton, Jay Kahn, D- Keene, and Harold French, R- Canterbury.

Sen. Bill Gannon, R- Sandown, and Carson opposed it.

Pics OK if suspect was 'immediate danger'

These post-arrest photos could be distributed if the suspect failed to appear in court and the picture could help locate the individual. These photos could also be released if the suspect was an "immediate danger" to the public.

The House adopted the bill on a voice vote last month.

Among the media professionals who testified against the bill were Brendan McQuaid, president with the New Hampshire Union Leader, on behalf of the New Hampshire Press Association, and Scott Spradling for the New Hampshire Association of Broadcasters.

"The implementation of this bill is a threat to government transparency and the ability of the press to hold government accountable," McQuaid said in his written testimony to the Senate panel last month.

Opponents noted there are ways to have embarrassing photos taken down so they don't appear on the web.

Gilles Bissonnette, political director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, said the innocent can be ruined by publishing the image.

"Too often there is a stigma of presumed guilt that comes with the photos that can last for years even when a person is acquitted, or the charges are dismissed," Bissonnette said.

[NEXT: State your case: Should agencies stop distributing mug shots?]

(c)2021 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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