Publishing mug shot galleries (online and in dedicated newspapers) for entertainment, profit and political gain is increasingly common here in the United States. But is it appropriate? Advocates argue that the practice contributes to making communities safer. Critics say it amounts to little more than public shaming, and worse yet, inhibits the right to a fair trial. Never mind that a not insignificant number of those accused are innocent.
What distinguishes these mug shot galleries from run-of-the-mill crime stories in daily newspapers? First, dailies limit their crime coverage to the most notable and serious crimes. On the other hand, comprehensive mug shot galleries like those published by Tennessee-based Just Busted consist of little more than page after page of names, photos, and a description of the crime(s) of the accused. Everyone arrested in a particular county or region is included, even those picked up for nothing more than a probation violation.
Another difference is that a newspaper typically gives the accused a chance to respond to the charges—either personally or through an attorney. In Just Busted weeklies (which sell for a dollar, mostly in convenience stores), the accused has no chance to present his or her side of the story. Notably, some of the labels assigned to arrestees seem to imply guilt. For instance, an individual hauled into jail for public drunkenness is labeled a “public drunk.” Meanwhile, men and women arrested for theft, robbery or burglary are featured on the “Sticky Fingers!” page, and those cuffed for assault & battery are categorized as “Ready2Rumble.”
Naturally, those who compile the mug shots for the likes of Just Busted are not infallible and admit they do make an “oops!” now and then, which perhaps explains why one Tennessee resident felt compelled to sue Just Busted LLC after having his picture published in the Sex Offender section. But the occasional lawsuit hasn’t been enough to derail Just Busted’s growth. Since being founded in April 2009 in Chattanooga, Just Busted has added five more editions, reaching more than 200,000 readers in three states.