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Tenth Circuit Won't Honor Federal Mugshot FOIA Requests

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

If you're going to get arrested, try to make sure it happens in one of the six states within the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals' jurisdiction.

Not that it's ever a good idea to have a run-in with the law, but at least the Tenth Circuit states aren't required to hand over your federal mugshot at the drop of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

A three-judge, Tenth Circuit panel ruled on Wednesday that the federal government is not required to release mugshots of accused criminals under FOIA. The ruling upholds the federal government’s longstanding non-disclosure policy for mugshots, reports Politico.

Judge Paul Kelly, writing for the panel, noted, “There is little to suggest that disclosing booking photos would inform citizens of a government agency’s adequate performance of its function. We agree with the district court that ‘disclosure of federal booking photographs is not likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of federal law enforcement operations or activities.”

The Tenth Circuit’s ruling furthers the split among the circuit regarding whether or not the photos should be released. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals previously ruled that booking photos were exempt from disclosure pursuant to FOIA Exemption 7(C), which excludes records that could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy from FOIA requests.

The Sixth Circuit, by contrast, has held that disclosure of a booking photo “in an ongoing criminal proceeding, in which the names of the defendants have already been divulged and in which the defendants themselves have already appeared in open court” does not implicate privacy rights.

The split, unfortunately, means that the media can still get access to federal mugshots by filing requests with a marshal’s office within the Sixth Circuit’s jurisdiction. According to Politico, many national news organizations now employ stringers in Sixth Circuit states to request mugshots photos for publication.

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