Bill to keep mug shots secret sent back to committee for further study

·2 min read

May 27—CONCORD — The state Senate put off until early in 2022 action on a controversial bill that would prohibit law enforcement from releasing post-arrest mug shots of criminal suspects.

On a voice vote Thursday, the Senate re-referred — kicked the bill back — to its Senate Judiciary Committee for further study this fall.

The action means the Senate panel must report the bill back in some form this fall, and the Senate then will take it up early next year.

The measure (HB 125) was endorsed by both civil libertarians and some social conservatives, who maintained it was an unfair invasion of privacy to publish images on the internet of someone who was later exonerated of a crime.

But a supporter, Sen. Harold French, R-Canterbury, said the House-passed legislation requires more work.

"I have found there are certain changes that need to be made," French said.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, admitted he wasn't eager to vote on the measure.

"To me it was a very difficult choice, wanting to support law enforcement and understanding the right of the free press under the First Amendment to publish material," Bradley said. "The media has to exercise better discretion."

Sen. Becky Whitley, D-Hopkinton, had said the bill was ready to be acted upon.

"This protected the dignity of the individual," she said.

Under the bill, post-arrest photos could be distributed if the suspect failed to appear in court and the picture could help locate them or if the suspect was an "immediate danger" to the public.

On Tuesday, the Senate panel endorsed the bill, 3-2.

In response, many law enforcement leaders contacted senators and urged them to reject the bill. Meanwhile, the New Hampshire Press Association sent out a "legislative alert" with the same message, and the New Hampshire Union Leader published a front-page editorial condemning the bill.

klandrigan@unionleader.com

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