The following email was sent by NEFAC board member and attorney Richard Gagliuso to New Hampshire state senators on May 27 on behalf of the coalition. It addresses NEFAC’s concerns and opposition to H.B. 125, “An Act Relative to Post-Arrest Photo Distribution By Law Enforcement Officers.” Learn more.
As you may know, I am an attorney who regularly represents several members of the media in New Hampshire. I am writing to you today, however, as a member of the board of the New England First Amendment Coalition (“NEFAC”), a coalition of journalists and media attorneys from all six New England states. I write to let you know of NEFAC’s concerns about, and opposition to, HB 125, which I understand is scheduled for a vote by the full Senate tomorrow.
In our view, HB 125 is a dangerous and unjustified infringement upon the public’s right to know what the government is up to, and upon the right and responsibility of the media to report the news to the public. Distribution of post-arrest photos of suspects, or “mugshots,” is a practice that has been routine in New Hampshire for many years. This practice has been vital to the goal of keeping the public apprised of the activities of law enforcement and ensuring that the police remain accountable to the public.
The media occasionally, but by no means often, publish these photos to the extent they deem them newsworthy. Among other considerations, to my knowledge, the media take into account whether the arrest itself is newsworthy, and whether the photo will assist in telling the story of the arrest. For example, a mugshot may reveal racial or demographic information that a simple report would not contain, or it may shed light on the condition of the suspect at the time of his/her arrest. A photo may also eliminate any doubt as to which of any number of “John Does” has been arrested. While most mugshots received by the media are never published, it is critical that the right of the media to gather and disseminate news not be curtailed, as HB 125 would do.
We understand that there are concerns about the further distribution of mugshots beyond their initial release by the police, including on social media. Given the number and breadth of the exceptions incorporated into HB 125, it is questionable whether the bill will address these concerns in any meaningful way. In any case, these concerns are far outweighed by the right of journalists to gather news and the value of all citizens knowing how their government operates.
Today, perhaps more than ever, citizens are demanding transparency and accountability within police departments. In this light, HB 125 sends precisely the wrong message at the wrong time. On behalf of NEFAC, I urge you to consider carefully the wisdom of HB 125 before your vote tomorrow.