To mug shot, or to not? We find ourselves in a peculiar spot.

There’s a bill which is part of the Attorney General’s package of legislation which is causing a minor bit of controversy in the halls of the legislature. Senate Bill 25 would allow for the release of booking photos – or mugshots – to the public, as an open government/open records measure.  As noted by KDLT news:

South Dakota is one of only two states in the nation that does not allow for these mug shot photos to be released to the public or the media. The only exception is when someone is considered a fugitive. In that case, law enforcement has the authority to release a photo of the suspect.

But a bill in the state legislature could change that.

Senate Bill 25, requested by Attorney General Marty Jackley, would give authorities permission to release criminal booking photos.


“I’m supportive of being open, I’m not resisting public access to our mugshots, I wish there was some way to better control mugshots of people in particular who end up not convicted or charges dismissed, because that thing could count them for the rest of their lives,” he said.

Read it all here.

The measure blew through the Senate, but it wasn’t unanimous. It was a 20-12 split, with the opposition coming from some conservative Republicans, along with a smattering of the few Democrats in the chamber.

I suspect it’s that part about the mugshots being released regardless of innocence or guilt having yet to be determined.

If someone has been tried by a court of their peers, and determined to have done something against the law, it’s a lot easier to say “that’s ok,” than it is for someone who might have inadvertently gotten caught up in a bad situation who was arrested but later exonerated. Should that bad photo taken at 2AM now follow an innocent party for the rest of their professional careers?  That’s a tough burden for someone to shoulder.

It’s a lot like the laws on civil forfeiture (which are slowly being reformed across the country), where the police or government seize cash under the auspices of it being part of a criminal enterprise without having to go through the formality of a conviction. I understand and sympathize with the “why”…. but there’s something that just doesn’t seem right.

We’ve always been taught that in this country since the time we were small children that under the American system of Justice that we are “innocent until proven guilty.”  Either we accept that as Gospel, or we don’t. And if we don’t, then what do we believe?

Tough questions to ponder when we consider how Government should treat the innocent in the face of an open system of government.

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