Privacy Law

Detroit newspaper wins right to publish mug shots of criminal defendants in federal court

A federal judge has held that the U.S. Marshals Service must turn over the mug shots of four Detroit-area police officers awaiting trial on public corruption charges to the Detroit Free Press.

But U.S. District Judge Patrick Duggan, in a 34-page ruling Monday, stayed his decision pending an expected appeal of the ruling by the Marshals Service, the Free Press reports.

In his ruling, Duggan noted that the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Court of Appeals—the jurisdiction of which includes Michigan—has already held that people in mug shots “do not have a privacy interest warranting nondisclosure.” As such, Duggan said, he is bound to follow the appellate court’s lead.

Duggan also ruled that the Free Press is entitled to pursue attorney fees and costs should it win on appeal or if no appeal is filed.

Free Press lawyer Herschel Fink said he hoped the ruling would put the issue to rest.

“This is our third lawsuit, so we can only hope that three strikes against the Department of Justice and they will be out,” he said.

The Free Press first sued the Marshals Service to obtain the booking photos of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and two other defendants then awaiting trial on public corruption charges. But the Marshals Service, which initially refused to release the photos, eventually relented after it realized the photos had already been released.

The newspaper later amended its complaint to obtain the booking photos of the four Detroit-area police officers awaiting trial on federal drug and corruption charges. The Marshals Service had refused to release the photos, arguing that the Freedom of Information Act exempts from disclosure certain public records that could constitute an invasion of privacy.

Attorneys for the government were not readily available for comment, the Free Press reports.

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