South Dakota Will Add Mug Shots to the Public Record

PIERRE, S.D. – South Dakota is poised to become the second-to-last state in the nation to make mug shots part of the public record, pending a new law awaiting the governor’s signature.

Senate Bill 25, sponsored by the state’s attorney general Marty Jackley, makes booking photos part of the public record when an individual is accused of a felony.

“The release of criminal booking photographs to the public will result in greater transparency in the criminal process, enhance public safety, and will further assist the media and the public in the proper identification of individuals in the criminal process,” Jackley said in a statement.

The bill was widely supported by journalists and proponents of open government.

Justin Smith, an attorney and lobbyist from the South Dakota Newspaper Association, argued at a House Judiciary Committee Meeting on Monday that the availability of booking photos contributed to public safety by allowing the people to contact law enforcement with additional information about the suspect pictured. In addition, a booking photo helps ensure that the correct person is identified in news reports, especially when the suspect has a common name.

Letitia Lister, publisher of the Black Hills Pioneer Newspaper, agreed. “The national conversation has been very dominated recently by the need for solid facts and accuracy in news reporting,” she said at the hearing. “By allowing us to have access to booking photos, SB 25 will give our newspaper one more tool to help ensure our accuracy when we are reporting on an impactful story.”

Lindsey Riter-Rapp, an attorney and lobbyist for the South Dakota Association for Criminal Defense Attorneys, objected to the bill on the grounds that the booking photo would remain in the public domain with an association of guilt even if the suspect was later acquitted or had the charges dropped.

“Once those photographs get out there, it is very difficult for someone to repair their reputation,” she said.

The law passed the Senate in January with a 20-12 vote, and the House on Tuesday with a 53-14 vote.

In the past, South Dakota law enforcement has released booking photos to the public in limited circumstances, such as when an inmate had escaped or a convicted sex offender had been released.

Governor Dennis Daugaard has indicated his intention to sign the bill into law.

When he does, Louisiana will remain the last state in the nation that does not include booking photos in the public record.