What's up with Tom DeLay's mug shot?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Oct. 21 2005 5:52 PM

What's the Deal With Tom DeLay's Mug Shot?

Why doesn't it have numbers on it?

He's De-Lovely! Click on image to enlarge.
He's De-Lovely!

On Thursday, Tom DeLay reported to the Harris County sheriff's office in Houston to post bond and get fingerprinted. DeLay also posed for a mug shot. The photograph shows a face-forward DeLay grinning; it doesn't show him in profile or holding a placard of identifying numbers. Is this happy-go-lucky photo a real mug shot?

Yes, though advances in technology have made mug shots pretty much indistinguishable from normal photographs. During the last decade or so, most state and federal bond offices have made their entire booking process digital. (For one, most jurisdictions no longer take fingerprints using an ink pad but use biometric scans instead.) Mug shots now typically get taken with a digital camera. The accused's personal identification number (those digits that used to appear on a placard in front of the arrestee's torso) and other data like gender, eye color, and birth date, get recorded on the side of the photo. (You can see DeLay and his booking information in this uncropped version of the photo.)

Photographing criminals in profile was once considered essential. But since the advent of digital photography, the profile shot has become less common. (Practices vary from state to state, but Texas now takes only frontal pictures.) A side-angle photo once helped officers to identify criminals who tried to disguise themselves, as it's more difficult to alter your profile than your face-forward appearance. However, now that computer programs are used to compare photographs instead of the naked eye, profile shots aren't as useful.

As for DeLay's smile, that's most likely pure political strategy. Reporters are speculating that the congressman's advisors urged him to grin so that Democrats won't be able use a dour mug shot in future ad campaigns.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Sgt. Bruce Carr of the Harris County Bonding Office, Terry Julian of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, and several Slatereaders for asking the question.

Keelin McDonell is an assistant editor atthe New Republic.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

The World’s Politest Protesters

The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

How Did the Royals Win Despite Bunting So Many Times? Bunting Is a Terrible Strategy.

Federal Law Enforcement Has Declared War on Encryption

Justice and the FBI really do not like Apple’s and Google’s new privacy measures.

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now.

Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 6:39 PM Spoiler Special: Transparent
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?