In Collin County every citizen charged with a crime gets their mugshot taken when being booked into jail, this is no different than the other 253 counties in Texas. What Collin county does differently is require each citizen to drape a towel around their neck. Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton doesn’t have to wear the traditional garb in his Collin County criminal cases. In fact the judge hearing his criminal case determined wearing the towel would be prejudicial to Mr. Paxton’s defense. Citing both the high-profile nature and the “defendant’s right to a fair trial,” State District Judge George Gallagher ordered the Collin County Sheriff to take the mugshot of Mr. Paxton without the towel.
To many, this isn’t a big deal; to the person looking twelve people in the eye asking them to be fair, it’s monumental. Prosecutors across the state routinely use a mugshot of the citizen accused during a trial. This is a fair tactic and not necessarily prejudicial in and of itself. The problems arise when the person charged with a crime is prejudiced by the picture’s use. If Mr. Paxton’s case and defense would have been prejudiced by wearing the towel, is the citizen who doesn’t hold the office of the Attorney General of Texas equally prejudiced in their Collin county criminal cases?
The U.S. Constitution guarantees a trial by an impartial jury and equal protection of all citizens. Yet, in this case it seems Mr. Paxton deserves more impartial jury members and more equal protection. Note the Constitution makes no distinction about a citizen’s status in society or the title they hold, it says equal protection for all.
There is some disagreement about the establishment of this policy, the Collin County sheriff’s office attributes it to complaints by the defense bar of suggestive lineups due to clothing of those photographed; however, a towel draped over someone’s shoulders in a poorly lit, drab mugshot can do harm in trial. Additionally, there are other methods of preventing suggestiveness in photo lineups than making everyone look guilty prior to trial. I don’t fault Judge Gallagher for his order in this Collin county criminal case, I feel he got it right. Perhaps it is time for the Collin county sheriff to throw in the towel when it comes to mugshots in Collin county criminal cases. Even if the Collin County Sheriff doesn’t change the policy, I believe there is precedent now to have every mugshot done with out the towel, and plan to make such a motion in my cases when it is warranted. Contact our office today to speak to an attorney.