From CNN's Bob Ruff
There was a time when a mug shot was, well, just a mug shot.
Remember the Watergate arrestees? H.R. Haldeman was Richard Nixon’s chief of staff. He was arrested for, and later convicted of, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Haldeman’s mug shot was typical of the times. His pose was expressionless and the photo was fairly grainy and totally unremarkable.
The chances of anyone actually seeing a mug shot back then were pretty slim, unless the arrested person was famous, or infamous, and authorities passed on the photo to the newspapers or TV.
And today? Welcome to the wide world of mug shots.
Topping the list may well be tampabay.com, the web site of the St. Petersburg Times. At any given moment they show online the mug shots of latest three people booked in the four counties in the Tampa Bay area. “As this technology has emerged,” says Hillsborough County, Florida Lieutenant Jim Previtera, “when a crime occurs they’re pretty quick to want to get the mug shot and they’ve been able to do it off our public web site.”
And Tampa is not alone. From Chicago to New York and across the nation it’s easy to see who has been arrested in your area–and you can look up the charges.
Why do so many people care? Previtera thinks it draws the same type of people who slow down in their cars to watch an accident or a police activity. “I guess we all have some curiosity,” he says, “and the Internet has made it a lot easier for people to go online and see who you might know that’s been arrested.”
And as more and more police photos show up, an interesting phenomenon has developed. People are actually smiling in their mug shots. Why?
Defense attorney John Trevena, who advertises on the Tampa Bay mug shot page, says people who smile do so for a variety of reasons. Some are nervous, some are drunk, others are laughing at something the photographer says. But he’s seen a trend that still others are drawn by the attention they get by knowing their photos will be seen on the Internet.
We tracked down two people who smiled during their booking. (Note that anyone photographed in police booking is innocent until proven guilty.)
Shannon Nicole Hulton was arrested for drunk driving earlier this year. She says she “knew that so many people were going to see this picture, so I don’t want a really gruesome picture of me where everybody knows the situation.” She adds that this is a “horrible invasion of privacy...and it makes me uncomfortable and sad.”
Derek Wilds was arrested for driving without a license. “Even in the most negative situation of being in a booking photo,” he told CNN, “you have to be positive about it... make the best of a bad situation.”
But watch out, says Trevena. “If you have a photo of a person with a toothy grin after just being arrested for a very serious crime, jurors might find that somewhat offensive, and find that the person is looking at it in kind of a dismissive way.”