Connecticut Bars Disclosing Photos of Homicide Victims

7 June 2013

Photographs of homicide victims will not be disclosable in the U.S. state of Connecticut under a new  law.

Written in the wake of the shootings of 26 persons in December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the legislation (Senate Bill No. 1149) was passed overwhelmingly June 5 and signed by the governor June 6.

Originally limited to blocking public disclosure of any visual images depicting those who died in the school shooting, the bill was later expanded to cover any graphic visual evidence of slain individuals from being released even through Freedom of Information Act filings.

In addition, any audio recordings including descriptions of “the condition of a victim of homicide” will be redacted when recordings of emergency telephone calls to 911 are released. The new law also exempts from disclosure the names of witnesses under 18 from disclosure.

Earlier proposals had called for banning the release of audio of 911 calls and of death certificates.

A 17-person task force will be established to “consider and make recommendations regarding the balance between victim privacy under the Freedom of Information Act and the public’s right to know.” The new 911 rule will expire May 7, 2014.

A supporter, Senate Majority Leader John McKinney, was quoted as saying, “One does not need to see the photos to understand the unwarranted pain and anguish it would cause a parent or other family members to see such photos published and appear on every internet every time someone searches Sandy Hook of school shooting.”

State Sen. Ed Meyer, one of two senators who voted against the bill, said in a statement, “The suppression of horrific crimes committed on public property and recorded by public officials is not consistent with a free and open society.”

All FOIA requests for images will go through the state Freedom of Information Commission, whose executive director, Colleen Murphy, has expressed concerns about having to judge when a request for images is “an unwarranted invasion of privacy.”

Murphy said in an interview: “How does that play out? It seems that the intention is to give discretion to family members, so in some cases the invasion of privacy would be warranted. We are technicians over here, so what does it mean? We are going to have cases on this. It’s not entirely clear and there may be cases brought to the commission under this.”

The new section states:

(NEW) (27) Any record created by a law enforcement agency or other federal, state, or municipal governmental agency consisting of a photograph, film, video or digital or other visual image depicting the victim of a homicide, to the extent that such record could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of the victim or the victim’s surviving family members.

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