The Pulse

Compromise jail mugshot bill passes House and survives crossover deadline

By: - May 8, 2023 6:00 am

Last week, in between the vote to advance bills banning most abortions after 12 weeks and prohibiting gender-affirming surgeries for transgender children, House legislators passed a bill that attempts to remove people’s jail mugshots from the public sphere, provided they are not convicted of the crimes for which they were arrested.

Rep. Joe John (D-Wake), one of the sponsors of House Bill 778, said the bill is intended to help people found not guilty of a crime or whose charges are dismissed to get their jail booking photos removed from private, for-profit companies that publish the mugshots and then charge people thousands of dollars to take them down.

“Under House Bill 778, the company must remove the photo within seven days of receipt of request to do so, along with documentation of the disposition of the charge,” said John.

Publishing jail booking photos online can have serious effects on people long after they are released, potentially impacting their housing or employment prospects. John’s bill attempts to spare people who aren’t convicted of a crime from the collateral consequences of merely ending up in jail.

The proposal is different from Senate Bill 104, which would have barred police from releasing mugshots. That was a broader measure that would have significantly reduced the dissemination of mugshots, not just for those who aren’t ultimately found guilty. John’s bill only applies to private, for-profit companies, and only provides a mechanism for taking a mugshot down when an individual is found not guilty or their charges are dismissed.

The bill’s text states that law enforcement agencies cannot disseminate mugshot photos to for-profit companies, but they can post the photo on their agency website or ¬†through a mobile application like Twitter.

John said that this wasn’t the first year this proposal had been introduced. He said there were provisions in bills from years’ past that imposed “certain obligations” on law enforcement agencies, but they were deleted from this year’s measure, and said the NC Chiefs of Police supports it now. He also said the Sheriffs’ Association hasn’t taken a position.

The bill passed the House unanimously, 117-0. Having cleared one chamber before the crossover deadline, the proposal is now in the Senate Rules committee.

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Kelan Lyons
Kelan Lyons

Investigative Reporter Kelan Lyons writes about criminal and civil justice, including high-profile litigation, prison and jail conditions, housing, and the challenges people face when they leave prison.