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Family Has Right of Privacy In Decapitation Photos 262

Posted by kdawson
from the have-you-no-shame dept.
big6joe sends in an update to a morbid story we discussed last year: a California appeals court has overturned a lower court ruling, granting the family of an 18-year-old woman who was killed in a traffic accident in 2006 privacy rights and recourse against the California Highway Patrol. "In a case that highlights how the ease of online communication can overthrow both common sense and basic decency, a California appeals court has ruled that families have a right of privacy in the death images of their loved ones. In 2006, an eighteen-year-old woman was decapitated in a traffic accident. Two of the police officers who reported to the scene emailed photos of the woman's body to their friends and family one Halloween."
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Family Has Right of Privacy In Decapitation Photos

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  • So... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    where are the pictures? anyone got a link?
    • Re:So... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 04, 2010 @02:42AM (#31721948)
      http://www.nikkicatsouras.net/ [nikkicatsouras.net]
      • Re:So... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by DirtyCanuck (1529753) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @03:06AM (#31722052)

        My friend was recently run over (Age 20), crossing a highway drunk.

        I thought it sucked when we found out and turned into the news to see his dead body, bloody on the highway. At the same time a select few saw the aftermath up close ("Cleaned up")These are things people see and have to clean up.

        These images remind us all of our fragile mortality. I ride my motorcycle much more conservative since my friends passing.

        If people saw reality more often, I think reality would become less grim as people realize how eggshell life really is.

        • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by value_added (719364) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @04:12AM (#31722302)

          If people saw reality more often, I think reality would become less grim as people realize how eggshell life really is.

          I wonder to what degree the views that underly this ruling exist outside the US. Photographs of tragedies when published in American newspapers and magazines (or broadcast on TV) are typically from the sanitized category. The reasoning behind that is we don't need to see what happened to know what happened (or less charitably, people prefer human interest stories).

          Consider something like a bus bombing. In the US, if a photograph is included it will typically show grief-stricken onlookers, or alternatively, the charred remains of the bus after everything has been cleaned up. Elsewhere, it's not at all uncommon to see multiple photographs showing the blood-spattered carnage in the immediate aftermath.

          Granted, the sensibilities of the newsreading public weren't at issue in the case, but still, the ruling does appear to reflect points of view that may not apply elsewhere. And if those views aren't universally held, it stands to reason that decisions related to the publishing of those images (self censorship among them) merit a re-examination. Fragility of life? I think we'd all agree that's an important lesson that needs to be learned. But consider this: the US has been engaged in two wars for years, and I've yet to see anything in the American press that reinforces that lesson, provides evidence of what is really happening, or more generally, reflects the true nature of war.

          Is the news coverage of violence and tragedy too sanitized for our own good? If the box office numbers for the "Action-Adventure" genre meant to satisfy the puerile tastes of the movie going public are any indication, I'd suggest it is. How else to explain the attraction and repeated desire to view dramatic re-enactments of something that, according to this judge, is morbid and doesn't deserve to be seen?

          My condolences on the loss of your friend. Drive safe and hope for the best. It's the most any of us can do.

        • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by sznupi (719324) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @05:03AM (#31722470) Homepage

          These images remind us all of our fragile mortality. ...and many people don't like that.

  • by glitch23 (557124) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @02:37AM (#31721932)

    In 2006, an eighteen-year-old woman was decapitated in a traffic accident. Two of the police officers who reported to the scene emailed photos of the woman's body to their friends and family one Halloween."

    Sounds like they have a problem with immature police officers as well. Hopefully the officers got reprimanded for doing that.

    • by Lorens (597774) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @04:09AM (#31722296) Journal

      Sounds like they have a problem with immature police officers as well. Hopefully the officers got reprimanded for doing that.

      One was suspended 25 days (w/o pay), the other resigned (but says it was for reasons unrelated to the accusation).

      One thing nags at me: family says they did not have a legal right to prevent websites from carrying the photos. However, the photos should still be copyright CHP.

      I wonder how the case would have stood if it had been an unrelated bystander who took the photos and intentionally displayed them to the world?

      • by severoon (536737) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @04:41AM (#31722396) Journal

        Copyright CHP? The CHP are public servants...anything created by the government is public domain. Good thing, too...that's why we have such rich geodata, b/c the government agencies that collect it all using our tax dollars are compelled to share it back with us. (After all, we paid for it.)

        In this case, I don't have a problem with courts restricting usage of public domain images of a crime scene in sensitive matters like this...but I have to say that we ought to tread lightly when it comes to limiting access to public domain information. It should only be barred from usage in particular cases, not in general.

        • by compro01 (777531)

          anything created by the government is public domain

          That only applies to the federal government. State and local governments can copyright their stuff if they like. Florida and Minnesota don't allow it, but I don't know about anywhere else.

        • by brit74 (831798)
          anything created by the government is public domain. Good thing, too...that's why we have such rich geodata, b/c the government agencies that collect it all using our tax dollars are compelled to share it back with us. (After all, we paid for it.)

          In the general case, I agree with you, but something seems very wrong with that idea if I think about other cases. For example, anything to do with national security - spy photos, weapon designs, lists of operatives, etc. I really don't think photographs of d
          • by severoon (536737) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @03:35PM (#31726324) Journal

            National security is already covered by laws granting the government rights to control that material.

            The general rule in the US is, if public money pays for it, the public owns it. Crime scene photos absolutely should be accessible for most purposes. I think that judges ought to be able to bar particular uses, but in general public information should be publicly available.

            Say, for example, I'm a graduate student in forensics writing a paper on crime scene photography techniques. The results of my paper could make sure more guilty people are convicted and, more importantly, innocent people are not. I can't have access to crime scene photos? I have to beg a judge for access to information that was taxpayer-funded?

            I want to respect the rights of families, but in this case it's not really their rights being infringed...it's the deceased. And dead people don't have a whole lot of rights. (Rightly so, I think.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

      Sounds like they have a problem with immature police officers as well. Hopefully the officers got reprimanded for doing that.

      I believe it has been reported that the reason they sent the photos out was as an cautionary example of why one should not text and drive at the same time,
      It isn't like they did it out of a sick sense of humor.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Lorens (597774)

        Sure, but the "real"problem is that the photos are out there with the name of the victim on them, given name and surname. If that was not the case I think the case would be weaker. Getting photos of your dead daughter in your mailbox along snide commentary is definitely reason to try complaining to law enforcement.

    • I wish more cops and more emergency personnel would publish photos. These images need to be in the mind of every person who drives a vehicle. It should be part of driver's education. "This is what YOU will look like, if you are stupid enough to drive your car into a rock wall at 80 mph!"

      It should hit females harder than males. No female wants to be buried looking fugly. Guys care about their appearance at their own funeral somewhat less, but the graphic images SHOULD get their attention anyway.

    • As a doctor, if I did that, I'd be fired and probably have my license taken away. Why should the police, who have the power of life or death over Joe Public not have to be held up to the same strict standards? Fire those cops, I say.
  • by pongo000 (97357) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @03:00AM (#31722028)

    ...than the Ohio Dept. of Public Safety films we were forced to watch in driver's ed showing decapitations, amputations, and other sordid details meant to "shock" us into not driving drunk/impaired/stupidly?

    It's human nature to look upon the misfortunes of others as something fortuitous for the viewer: The idea of "Thank God that's not me or a loved one". And to be truthful here, the Newsweek article pointed to in the original /. story did mention that the M.E. found cocaine in the girl's system, even though the family tried to put the blame on a brain tumor. The family should embrace the opportunity to show young people what happens when they choose to get behind the wheel after a few lines of coke.

    • by pongo000 (97357) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @03:03AM (#31722038)

      Surprisingly, the ODPS videos are still available. [ohio.gov]

    • by jeko (179919) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @03:31AM (#31722142)

      ...identified the victim in the photos and sent them out as a Halloween joke. The images flew across the Internet and the same sick people who frequent the gore sites across the internet emailed the images back to the family with taunts, ridicule and abuse.

      Sure, the girl drove under the influence. She paid for it with her life. I think that's sufficient punishment. Her parents buried their teenage daughter. I think that's more than enough punishment.

      Speaking as a father, the bad guys in this story are the officers on the scene. How they could think it was OK to use those photos for their own sick little joke on Halloween is beyond me. How they could think they had the authority to release those photos to the public at large is beyond me. Has law enforcement become so craven in this country they don't understand what we mean by "respect for the dead?"

      I've seen the Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg videos. I think they should be required viewing for every adult of voting age in this country, because seeing those two videos provides context for foreign policy decisions we need to vote on. I can even see the usefulness of "mechanized death" videos that try to make a point with immortal 16-year-olds, provided the footage is anonymous and separated by a healthy number of years.

      However, I can also see the difference between a major newsworthy event that should inform foreign policy and two ghouls in uniform getting their sick little jollies at the expense of grieving parents. Sick minds like these need doctors and asylums, not badges and guns.

      • by MrKaos (858439) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @03:48AM (#31722208) Journal

        Speaking as a father, the bad guys in this story are the officers on the scene. How they could think it was OK to use those photos for their own sick little joke on Halloween is beyond me. How they could think they had the authority to release those photos to the public at large is beyond me. Has law enforcement become so craven in this country they don't understand what we mean by "respect for the dead?"

        In one way it just demonstrates we still have a long way to go before we can expect *all* police to be professional, some are, some aren't.

        • by antdude (79039)

          I expect that not all police will be professional. :(

        • by jeko (179919)

          The problem is that ALL police carry the force of Law, the color of Authority and the ability to use deadly force. Their testimony carries the presumption of truth in the courtroom. We invest them with an ENORMOUS amount of power in our society.

          NONE of them should be unprofessional. We give them far too much power to tolerate even the appearance of bad behavior. If you are not truly "One of the City's Finest," then you need to be out of the uniform.

      • Has law enforcement become so craven in this country they don't understand what we mean by "respect for the dead?"

        I know cops. They regularly deal with deal, and other horrible things. From my personal observations, it seems that they typically develop strange, distasteful senses of humor as a defense mechanism. I'm not saying you should find that acceptable, but you should attempt to UNDERSTAND it.

        • by Lorens (597774)

          Sure, but why include the name of the girl?

        • by jeko (179919)

          I'm not saying you should find that acceptable, but you should attempt to UNDERSTAND it.

          I work a lot of municipal security too. I also work with a lot of cops. I grew up military.

          I do understand it. I don't find it acceptable. I'm completely willing to allow these two officers to resign from the force and enter the care of a mental health professional on the city's dime.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by drinkypoo (153816)

        Speaking as a father, the bad guys in this story are the officers on the scene.

        Everyone in this family is a "bad guy". The girl was driving coked out. The cops sent her picture to people as a gag. The parents raised a spoiled, irresponsible girl. Nobody needs to see the pictures to know she was decapitated; we have a word for it in our language. But nobody needs to be driving under the influence, either. And double-extra nobody needs to blame the death of a cokehead on a brain tumor to make themselves seem less pathetic. It's all bad.

        • Sure. I can agree with that. The girl paid for her crimes with her life. The parents paid for theirs by burying their teenage daughter.

          The only ones who haven't been held responsible yet are the cops on the scene.

    • Driving impaired? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by seeker_1us (1203072)
      Embracing the opportunity to show the impact of illegal chemicals on driving is FAR different than cops emailing out the photograph as a Halloween joke.
      • by DaveGod (703167)

        Embracing the opportunity to show the impact of illegal chemicals on driving is FAR different than cops emailing out the photograph as a Halloween joke.

        Having trawled through the Decision, the above isn't so far off the conclusion here. The fact that these pictures were made by cops carrying out their duties while their dissemination was out-with the purposes of those duties was pervasive - see the conclusion on the final page.

        There is an inevitable tendency to take the basic information from the summary a

    • by Kenja (541830)
      At a guess, the difference is consent of the families involved.
  • by Skarecrow77 (1714214) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @03:08AM (#31722062)

    I fail to see how this is any different from the thousands of people who rubberneck and gawk as they pass an accident on our nation's highways.

    If you go out and kill yourself in public, chances are very good people are going to see your dead body. That's what "public" means.

    I guess the "problem" here is that it was the police that distributed the photos instead of some hapless bystander who happened to have a cell phone or digital camera? I can understand if they're compromising some homicide investigation... damn right they need to get in deep trouble for that, but if all signs are that you managed to kill yourself in darwinistic fashion (as this appears to be), then your death SHOULD serve as a lesson to the rest of humanity.

    • The difference (Score:5, Interesting)

      by bonch (38532) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @03:19AM (#31722086)

      The pictures ended up on sites like 4chan, and idiots even found the email addresses of the family and sent trick emails containing the images. They also made harassing prank calls. So the difference in this case is that the officers who distributed the photos directly caused pain and suffering to the family by leaking the pictures to the rest of the world. There are some very cruel people out there who think being callous makes them funny.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I find the actions you described to be fairly disgusting, but the argument you seem to be making is that because some sick shits abused the information, nobody should have been allowed to disseminate the information. While I wish I could agree with the sentiment, the fact is that free speech isn't that selective.

        Now - the officers involved should definitely be held responsible for any damages they caused. As should, frankly, anyone who can be proved to have been using the pictures in a way that caused d

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by icebraining (1313345)

          Wrong. Freedom of speech is freedom from responsibility - it protects not only the act of speaking, but from being punished for it.

          The thing is, freedom of speech is selective; it's purpose is to protect political (or artistic) speech, but it is limited in other cases, like libel or in this case, it might be protected by Personality Rights [wikipedia.org].

          • Re:The difference (Score:4, Insightful)

            by ragethehotey (1304253) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @05:05AM (#31722480)

            Wrong. Freedom of speech is freedom from responsibility - it protects not only the act of speaking, but from being punished for it.

            The thing is, freedom of speech is selective; it's purpose is to protect political (or artistic) speech, but it is limited in other cases, like libel or in this case, it might be protected by Personality Rights [wikipedia.org].

            No, it protects you from being punished by the government, there are countless reasons one can be successfully punished in civil court for something that is clearly "protected speech"

            You are free to disseminate trade secrets of a corporation you worked for, but they are free to sue the living shit out of you for it.

            • by snowgirl (978879)

              Wrong. Freedom of speech is freedom from responsibility - it protects not only the act of speaking, but from being punished for it.

              The thing is, freedom of speech is selective; it's purpose is to protect political (or artistic) speech, but it is limited in other cases, like libel or in this case, it might be protected by Personality Rights [wikipedia.org].

              No, it protects you from being punished by the government, there are countless reasons one can be successfully punished in civil court for something that is clearly "protected speech"

              You are free to disseminate trade secrets of a corporation you worked for, but they are free to sue the living shit out of you for it.

              Quite true. Freedom of Speech actually cannot be restrained prior to the speech actually being made. All forms of speech may be made without any ability to make it immediately illegal to make it. For instance, any law, or protection order saying "you must not say anything bad about anyone" would immediately hit into trouble with first amendment rights.

              Basically, you can sue someone for libel/slander once they open their mouth and say whatever they want, but you cannot get a court order or law telling the

          • by snowgirl (978879)

            Wrong. Freedom of speech is freedom from responsibility - it protects not only the act of speaking, but from being punished for it.

            The thing is, freedom of speech is selective; it's purpose is to protect political (or artistic) speech, but it is limited in other cases, like libel or in this case, it might be protected by Personality Rights [wikipedia.org].

            The problem is that it has already been established by case law that the government cannot prevent even defamatory speech from being made. Freedom of Speech grants us the inalienable right to say whatever the hell we want to... but it only protects certain forms of speech from responsibility.

            Defamation of a public figure isn't an actionable case in law because of the First Amendment, it is protected by the fact that they do not have an valid expectation of privacy.

            The difference is, as I noted below, you c

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by clarkkent09 (1104833) *
        I still don't see how this is the officers' fault. If they violated their department's policy by emailing these photos, then that is the extent of their guilt. There is a penalty for that I'm sure. If the family experienced pain and suffering as a result of some idiots emailing or calling them, then those idiots are responsible for that and the family has every right to sue them. Was there no way to track down and expose any of them?
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          They could always follow legal precedent established by RIAA lawyers, and file a John Doe lawsuit. They can work out who actually caused the harm once they get to damages.

        • They are at fault because they violated a trust placed in them by the public. We are are not paying them to snap photos of things and make them public. When they are on duty, they are working for us. And while I do not begrudge them a water cooler conversation, I do not think I am happy with paying them to snap personal photos of the poor dead people they encounter in their line of work and distributing them on the Internet.

          As for exactly how she ended up dead or her personal habits, I don't think they'r

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gd2shoe (747932)
        Unless they uploaded the pictures to 4chan themselves, they can hardly be held responsible for that particular group of abuses. (The department should certainly discipline them, though.)
        • by KarmaMB84 (743001)

          Unless they uploaded the pictures to 4chan themselves, they can hardly be held responsible for that particular group of abuses. (The department should certainly discipline them, though.)

          This would actually be inconsistent with how we handle other cases of someone committing an initial crime and that crime spurring additional harm. If you commit a crime, you'll often get to take responsibility for ALL the harm that crime caused. The images wouldn't be on 4chan if they didn't commit their crime in the first place.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by linzeal (197905)
        My friend down in California knows a cop who got sued in the 1990's for releasing the information a man with a restraining order needed to find his ex-wife and beat the crap out of her to the point she has brain injuries. The police department, the county and he himself got sued and her family won against them all, they refused to take a settlement for fear it would happen to someone else. The county paid out, the police department did too, but he himself can never afford to buy a house, a car or even gro
        • by kklein (900361)

          Amen. Whenever the police act in an inappropriate manner, we need to nail their asses to the wall.

          When I'm king, there will be a new law making it illegal to violate the public's trust. Politician taking bribes? That's a hanging. Spitting in the food while working at a restaurant? That's a hanging. Police brutality/theft/rape/torture/sending out pictures of a mutilated teenage girl? You better believe that's a hanging.

          Society doesn't work when the people we give control over aspects of our lives aren't

    • The differences are:

      1. The photos were taken by police officers improperly.
      2. The photos found their way onto the sickosphere.
      3. The photos were then shown to a school class, which included the deceased girl's younger sister
      4. No, you don't have a right to view anything and everything that someone has a camera on.
    • "... if all signs are that you managed to kill yourself in darwinistic fashion (as this appears to be), then your death SHOULD serve as a lesson to the rest of humanity.

      Darwinistic according to what set of rules?

      Using a nature show(relevantly) as example, the slower wilderbest that is caught by a predator is taken out of the breeding pool there by enhancing future progeny.

      Similarly, if your 18 yo daughter fails to avoid a drunk driver on the wrong side of the road, 2 off her peers having previously a
  • by Johann Lau (1040920) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @04:32AM (#31722368) Homepage Journal

    What kind of fucktards do they allow into the police force, anyway? Doesn't that give you pause? And isn't that the real issue here? If those cops weren't scum, the case would not have come about. So why allow scum to police people, and how to change it? How would one make the police force (or the military for that matter) a no go area for character dwarfes, while attracting people where, uhm, you don't have to wash your soul after each time you had contact with them, or heard about them in the news? I wonder.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      How would one make the police force (or the military for that matter) a no go area for character dwarfes, while attracting people where, uhm, you don't have to wash your soul after each time you had contact with them, or heard about them in the news? I wonder.

      It's called civilian oversight police review boards. Any police force not kept in check by one will eventually become a fascist gang, if it doesn't just start that way. Positions of power attract those who will abuse it.

  • My tax dollars paid for the taking and processing of those photographs.
    They should be public property anyway.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by KarmaMB84 (743001)
      Your tax dollars pay for a lot of things you'll never see. Crime scene photos should be the least of your worries.
  • The thing that's really important to the government is to protect the privacy of protected class criminals. The only gore you're allowed to see is "docudrama" shit on TV where they reverse the races of the perpetrators.

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