Iowa House bill would restrict release of mug shots

DES MOINES — A bill that’s cleared a subcommittee in the Iowa House would make mug shots confidential in most cases, until a person is actually convicted or pleads guilty. Under the proposal, a mug shot could be released if the person is considered an imminent threat or if a judge decides to make it public.

Lisa Davis-Cook is a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of Justice, which represents trial lawyers. She says keeping most mug shot photos private would protect the reputations of people who are never found guilty. “There’s websites, there’s social media accounts that are littered with booking shots of people ‘the day after,’” Davis-Cook says. “Some of those people, the charges never go beyond that yet those pictures are out there in the public domain that can really harm them.”

Catherine Lucas of the Iowa Department of Public Safety says photos are important to distinguish between people with the same name. “All mug shots in Iowa have the disclaimer that the person is innocent until proven guilty,” Lucas says, “and we think the system, as is currently, works well.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures,  nearly a dozen states have passed laws either restricting the release of booking photos or prohibiting for-profit ‘mug shot’ websites from charging people to have their photos removed.