NEFAC, Media Organizations Argue For Release of Mugshots Taken By U.S. Marshals Service


CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |

The New England First Amendment Coalition joined 36 news organizations today to file an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals (6th Circuit) arguing that mugshots taken by the U.S. Marshals Service must be disclosed under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The brief, drafted by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, argues that there is no privacy right that should prevent the release of photos of those arrested, indicted and who have appeared in open court. Even if the release of mugshots did implicate privacy interests, according to the brief, their significant contribution to the public understanding of government activity would still require disclosure under FOIA.

“For example, the release of mugshots can help the public ensure that law enforcement personnel have captured the correct suspect,” explained amici in the brief. “They can also alert the public to either abusive law enforcement officers, or clear them of suspicion of impropriety. Additionally, the public benefits from being informed of the workings of the criminal justice process as a whole. This is particularly relevant to journalists and members of the news media, who play an essential role in ensuring that the public remains up-to-date, and rely on mugshots to help them do so.”

The case, Detroit Free Press v. U.S. Dept. of Justice, began when the Free Press sued the Marshal Service in federal court last spring to enforce its right to access booking photographs under FOIA. The district court agreed that the photos must be released, but the government appealed that decision and the case is now before the Sixth Circuit.

“An adverse outcome in this case will limit the ways we can monitor our justice system,” said Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director. “It’s important for journalists and the public as a whole to have access to these mugshots to better understand how government works.”

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, librarians, academics and private citizens.