Presumption of innocence is arguably one of the major founding principles of our legal system. The idea that one is innocent until proven guilty guarantees the accused the benefit of the doubt, thus ensuring a fair trial.
Unfortunately, the justice system takes this right for granted. When a person is arrested, with or without charges, they are legally required to take a mugshot, a photo capable of severely hurting a person’s career opportunities, social life, and reputation.
In publishing mugshots, news outlets, tabloids, and booking photo websites deny those arrested of their presumption of innocence.
While a mugshot is not a guilty verdict, and most outlets don’t intentionally purport those in the photos to be criminals, mugshots hold a strong visual association between the subject and criminal activity. The association is considered so powerful that courts strongly disfavor showing such photos to criminal juries to avoid any prejudice.
But in the court of public opinion, less forethought goes into warning viewers that mugshots are not evidence of wrongdoing, and, as a result, society draws a strong inference of guilt from these photos. It is not difficult to see why: the harsh lighting, the dreary background, the gloomy atmosphere, all suggest we are looking at a lawbreaker, when in reality, the person is only a suspect facing allegations.
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Thousands of innocent individuals who’ve had their mugshots posted on third-party websites have lost their employment status and have received unfair criticism from their community at large.
To prevent this, law enforcement agencies should have the discretionary power to release booking photos of criminal suspects only in cases where they were to be found guilty.
Solana Beach, California