March 16, 2010
ATLANTA—Restricting or enlarging current law is not the way to remedy the release of disturbing crime scene photos, yet the state Legislature seems poised to do just that, Georgia State University College of Law Professor Jessica Gabel wrote in an opinion piece published March 16 in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Last month, a true-crime reporter working for Hustler magazine requested photos depicting Meredith Emerson's nude and decapitated body under Georgia's public disclosure records laws. In 2008, Emerson was brutally killed while hiking with her dog in North Georgia. The atrocities were horrid and disturbing, Gabel wrote.
Hustler is now revisiting Emerson's death for a possible feature in its pages. More widely known for its photos of nude (but living) women, Hustler is no ordinary media outlet. Understandably, last month's request dismayed the slain woman's family. But it's disappointing that it created such pandemonium at the state Capitol that legislators scrambled to pass a law preventing the release of such photos, Gabel wrote.
"The legislation strikes directly at our public records laws by amending the existing exceptions to public disclosure to include crime scene photos. Another proposal suggested enlarging the obscenity laws. Neither of these suggestions is a good fix," Gabel wrote. Georgia's public records laws already contain more than 15 exceptions to public disclosure, including medical records, law enforcement records that might endanger a person or investigation and autopsy photographs and recordings.
"In 2001, after the controversial death of race car driver Dale Earnhardt, the Florida Legislature amended Florida's open public records laws to prevent the release of autopsy photographs, videos and audio recordings. Notably, it did not include crime scene photos. The Meredith Emerson Privacy Act needlessly expands Georgia's prohibition of releasing autopsy photographs and recordings. Tacking on crime scene photos misses the intended effect, which is to limit the intrusion into the family's privacy. The mere request for access to the photographs is not the driving issue–the possibility of publication (and the source of that publication) is. The Legislature should consider the difference before it acts."