From the Police Precinct to Your Neighbor's Coffee Table: Limiting Public Dissemination of Mug Shots During an Ongoing Criminal Proceeding Under the Freedom of Information Act

AuthorWhitney T. Martin
PositionJ.D. Candidate, The University of Iowa College of Law
Pages1431-1459
1431
From the Police Precinct to Your
Neighbor’s Coffee Table: Limiting Public
Dissemination of Mug Shots During an
Ongoing Criminal Proceeding Under the
Freedom of Information Act
Whitney T. Martin
ABSTRACT: The Freedom of Information Act provides public access to
government agency records. Agencies have discretion, however, to withhold
any information that falls under one of the Act’s exemptions, including, in
some instances, private individual records. While the Supreme Court has
recognized that criminal detainees have a privacy interest in restricted
dissemination of their criminal records, it has yet to rule on whether the
same privacy interest exists for mug shots. Currently, there is a circuit split
over this issue. This Note analyzes the split in light of the purpose and
history of the Freedom of Information Act and argues that future courts that
entertain the issue should adopt the reasoning employed by the Tenth
Circuit—namely, recognizing a privacy right in detainees’ mug shots in
ongoing criminal proceedings. The Supreme Court has already recognized
the detrimental and lasting stigma on the not-yet convicted detainee. In
holding that such a privacy interest exists, the Court will maintain
consistency in its tendency toward increased privacy protection under the
Act, minimize negative stigma, and still adhere to the Act’s purpose.
I. INTRODUCTION .................................................................................... 1433
II. THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT ................................................. 1434
A. PURPOSE AND HISTORICAL BACKGROUND ........................................ 1434
1. Legislative History ................................................................ 1435
a. The “Groundwork” Phase ................................................. 1436
b. Reform ............................................................................. 1437
c. Enactment ........................................................................ 1437
J.D. Candidate, The University of Iowa College of Law, 2014; B. B.A., Emory University,
2010. Thank you to the student writers and editors of Volumes 98 and 99 of the Iowa Law
Review for their hard work and to my family for their continued support.
1432 IOWA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 99:1431
2. The Effect of FOIA’s Enactment ......................................... 1438
B. RESTRICTED DISSEMINATION UNDER FOIA ...................................... 1438
1. The 1974 Amendments ....................................................... 1440
2. The 1996 Amendments ....................................................... 1440
3. FOIA’s Nine Exemptions ..................................................... 1441
a. The Exemptions Outlined .................................................. 1441
b. Exemption 7(C) ................................................................ 1442
C. WHEN PRIVACY INTERESTS OUTWEIGH PUBLIC INTERESTS UNDER
FOIA ............................................................................................. 1443
D. PRIVACY INTERESTS IN MUG SHOTS ................................................. 1444
III. THE CURRENT SPLIT ............................................................................ 1445
A. THE COURT-CREATED PRIVACY INVASION TEST UNDER EXEMPTION
7(C) .............................................................................................. 1446
B. THE SIXTH CIRCUIT ....................................................................... 1448
C. THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT ................................................................. 1449
D. THE TENTH CIRCUIT ...................................................................... 1450
IV. CRIMINAL DETAINEES HAVE A PRIVACY RIGHT IN MUG SHOTS THAT
OUTWEIGHS PUBLIC INTEREST DURING ONGOING CRIMINAL
PROCEEDINGS ....................................................................................... 1452
A. SIGNIFICANT PRIVACY INTERESTS IN MUG SHOTS ............................. 1453
1. “[P]resumption of innocence is a legal requirement, not
a social norm” ....................................................................... 1453
2. The Supreme Court Trend Towards Increased Privacy
Protection ............................................................................. 1456
B. PRIVACY INTERESTS OUTWEIGH PUBLIC INTERESTS UNDER THE
BALANCING TEST ........................................................................... 1457
V. CONCLUSION ....................................................................................... 1459

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