Mugshots and the Press-Privacy Dilemma

Article by Amy Gajda

This Essay explores the history of privacy in booking photographs, why those photographs became more publicly available, and how courts today have started to limit access to them based in large part on privacy grounds. It proceeds in four parts. Part II looks at a key and surprising-to-some 1999 federal district court case from Louisiana in which a judge withheld the booking photograph of a public figure on privacy grounds. Part III looks at early court decisions and explains how judges even in the early days of so-called rogues' galleries struggled with exactly the sort of privacy interests/public interest balance as did the Louisiana-based federal court in 1999. Part IV looks at recent major mugshot-related legal updates, especially a federal appellate decision in which the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed course and, as has every other federal appellate court, held that some level of privacy rights exists in booking photographs. And, finally, Part V explains why this all has broader implications for media and the press-privacy question.
This Essay ultimately argues that the rather discrete and interesting example of mugshots nonetheless exemplifies the press-privacy conflict that was the focus of the 2018 Tulane University Law School conference titled Privacy, News, and the Future of Freedom of the Press.

About the Author

Amy Gajda: Class of 1937 Professor of Law, Tulane University Law School, and a former journalist.


93 Tul. L. Rev. 1199 (2019)