Mug Shots Subject to Open Records Act

A new opinion from Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has declared that mug shots, or booking photos, fall within the scope of the Oklahoma Open Records Act.  According to the Attorney General’s opinion, the image constitutes an “arrestee description.”  This broad interpretation of the Open Records Act could compel law enforcement agencies to change their policies regarding the production of other records.

The issue presented by requests for mug shots turns on an interpretation of the law enforcement exemption to the Open Records Act.  That section of the Act permits law enforcement agencies to withhold documents unless the record falls within specifically enumerated categories, including “an arrestee description.”  Law enforcement agencies have attempted to limit the scope of this category by contending that it only applies to written physical descriptions.  Relying on this very narrow interpretation of the Act, law enforcement agencies have routinely denied a wide variety of records, including video taken from police dash cameras, or video taken within within a jail or prison facility.

It is too early to determine how law enforcement agencies will apply the new Attorney General’s opinion, but the public can certainly expect news organizations and other citizen journalists to use the opinion to request greater transparency from law enforcement agencies throughout the state.

*Originally published by Bryan & Terrill Law, PLLC on December 14, 2012