Open Records in Texas-Mugshots at County Level


Open Records in Texas-Mugshots at County Level

13 April 2009 at 3:52:51 PM

I occassionally get mugshots to go along with the sheriff\'s logs that are posted elsewhere on this blog. Because, as most people know, quite a few newspapers and television stations get mugshots of new arrests, I assumed there would be no problem with doing so here in Somervell County. After all, neighboring county newspapers, to include the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Bosque County News, Stephenville Empire Tribune, Cleburne Times-Review and Waco Tribune post articles about new arrests and quite often have the mugshot of the person arrested to accompany the article.

Not so for Somervell County. For whatever reason, Somervell County Sheriff\'s Department has decided that only mugshots for those who have been convicted (that is, already through the court process and adjudicated) are available through open record. The critieria used has been to look to see which cases are open or closed, and, if closed, what the outcome was. Besides the obvious fact that I would like to have access to mugshots upon arrests (with exceptions for minors, for example), I was being charged for the time it took to research whether the cases were open or not.

I asked the Attorney General for an opinion and this is the result. (PDF)

As you can read, the AG said that the charges were not appropriate; that while the Somervell County has discretion not to release mughots if they don\'t want to, IF they choose not to, they can\'t charge for the research. "Because section 552.108 is discretionary, the sheriff\'s office may not charge labor time to determine which cases are still open and which cases are closed. Therefore, the only charges allowed are $.10 for each page released."

I spoke with the AG\'s office about this, and while disappointed that withholding mugshots is discretionary, I was told that should the sheriff\'s office give a mugshot at any time to any other entity, including other people, newspapers, media, etc, they would have to then release them for everyone, because they cannot make exceptions to their discretionary rule only for some. Therefore if, for example, i know for sure that a newspaper in town has a mugshot that was given them by the Sheriff\'s Department, while a case was open, they would have to supply them to anyone who asks.

Update: Our friends at Texas Watchdog gave us a shoutout.

2nd Update July 28 2010- I saw on Texas Watchdog that the Irving police department is required to release mug shots to an entity that asked for general mugshots in particular time frames. The AG based this on section 552.101 which is a privacy consideration.  That is different than the exception that Somervell County is claiming, which is 552.108.

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