Law: No more booking photos

By Bonnie Culverhouse

When Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law House Bill 729, it dramatically changed the face of all types of media, including Webster Parish Journal.

Act 494 prohibits anyone from publishing – in print or online – booking photos of alleged criminals, with few exceptions.

“A judge can rule that a law enforcement agency can release the photo to the media if the individual is deemed to be a threat in some way,” State Rep. Wayne McMahen, R-10, said. “And if it is released, a disclaimer must be attached.”

According to the law, if a “Be On The Look Out” (BOLO) is released or the individual is on a surveillance video acting in a suspicious way and considered a threat to the community, photographs (but not booking photos) may be released.

Also, certain offenses such as sex offenses, human trafficking, offenses affecting the health and morals of minors or persons with infirmities, video voyeurism, cruelty to animals and dogfighting open the mugshot door.

“But a judge still has to sign off on it … releasing the booking photo,” McMahen said.

McMahen said he remembers the bill as being “contentious” in the legislature.

“It was a fine line,” he said. “Some felt like the law would protect the criminals, but they are all supposed to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. I did vote in favor of it.”

House of Representatives approved it with 76 yeas, 21 nays and 7 absent.

The state Senate passed the bill with 32 yeas, 0 nays and 4 absent. Sen. Robert Mills, R-36 was one of the missing four.

Webster Parish Sheriff Jason Parker said when a booking photo is online, it’s there forever.

“If the person is found innocent or not guilty and their record is expunged, that photo is still out there on the Internet forever,” Parker said. “So this way it’s never published in the first place.”

Parker said law enforcement has 60 days for transition.

“We are in the process of taking all our mugshots down from our sites and apps,” he said. “It will take a little time, though.”

Minden Police Chief Steve Cropper said it’s now the law so – regardless of how one feels about it –the law must be followed.

“We will continue to send photos in the case of surveillance and BOLO’s,” Cropper said. “We need the public’s help as much as possible.”

What happens if a booking photo is published by mistake? There’s a clause for that.

According to the law, the person or family of the person can request it be taken down; however, there are remove-for-pay publications and websites that may charge a fee. That fee cannot be more than $50.

Otherwise, the publication can be liable for all costs, including reasonable attorney fees resulting from any legal action that individual brings against the failure of the remove-for-pay publication or website to remove and destroy the photograph.

While the Webster Parish Journal will still publish arrest reports and stories, it ceased publishing booking photographs last week.

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