Local delegate explains support for bill that bans pre-conviction booking photos, explains exceptions

MOUNT HOPE, WV (WOAY) – A local delegate has explained his support of a controversial bill that would prohibit the public from accessing mugshots of people who have yet to be convicted.

House Bill 4621 would keep mugshots taken when someone is booked in regional jails out of public view.

Delegate Eric Brooks, who represents Fayette and Raleigh County, says open access to and publication of mugshots of people who have not been convicted of any crime is a violation of constitutional rights.

“It’s hard for me to see the redeeming value of having this out there for the individual that’s been accused of something by a government entity. We do have the Bill of Rights in the Constitution and due process. I think that this is kind of jumping the gun on due process by putting a mugshot out there when you have not been convicted of anything,” Brooks said.

He argued that the circulation of mugshots can sway a jury and that it gives the government an unconstitutional advantage in trials.

The bill makes exceptions for occasions when a person is a fugitive and sharing the mugshot would help him be apprehended.

A mugshot can also be released if the person is believed to be a threat to public safety and sharing the mugshot would help eliminate the threat.

Additionally, a judge can order the mugshot to be released if it is in legitimate interest. Once the person is convicted or pleads guilty, the mugshot can be released.

Critics of the bill say that it is in the public interest for these arrest records to be kept public.

Supporters say that people who have been arrested should not have their mugshots circulated before being convicted.

Brooks agreed, saying that it can change the public opinion of a person, regardless if they are actually guilty.

“It’s a good possibility for a lot of folks that they didn’t do anything or, but the mug shot is still out there in public opinion,” he said. “There are websites where you can pull up someone’s mug shot, and it’s just kind of a common social practice at this point. That doesn’t mean it’s right. And it doesn’t mean that it lines up with our constitutional rights as well.”

The bill passed the House 54-46. It now heads to the Senate.

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