Brock Turner's Mugshot Makeover From Booking To Sentencing Matters Immensely — Here's Why
On Monday, the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department finally released Brock Turner's mugshot, after the former Stanford swimmer was sentenced to six months in county jail following his conviction on three counts of felony sexual assault against an unconscious woman. There was a delay in this release, which came long after his March conviction and several days after his June 2 sentencing, raising questions and scrutiny over what was taking so long. After a dispute over which law enforcement agency was responsible for releasing the photo, it was made public on June 6, at which point it became clear that the delay was far from the only problematic factor at play.
See, the original mugshot which Bustle and many other outlets received was of Brock Turner prior to his sentencing. In that image, his hair is neatly cut. He is wearing a suit. He appears well-rested. He was obviously able to anticipate and prep in advance for the photo, which is oddly reminiscent of a yearbook pic. This, of course, wasn't a coincidence. Shortly after the release of this mugshot, his mugshot at the time of his booking was also released. The difference between them is profound.
Here is the image of Turner at the time of his booking:
And here is the image of him months later, prior to his sentencing (and also the first one to be released):
There is no doubt that the image seen in a mugshot, regardless of the subject's guilt, affects the perception of their case. We associate them with the immediate aftermath of an alleged crime — we perceive how guilty the person looks at the time of their arrest, and make personal judgments based on it. It's hard not to.
But Brock Turner evidently wasn't held to those same standards. His ability to prep for the "mugshot" that was initially released allowed him to control his narrative and present himself as a young man of high standing in his community — in other words, not the type of person who looks like he just committed a violent crime. While his father's now-viral letter appealing to the judge over his son's swimming talents and potential is a blatant show of entitlement, this is a quieter, but arguably far more dangerous, version of it. Not only is he playing to his privilege for sympathy, but that same privilege that helped him get away with controlling his personal image in the first place.
But the issue is much deeper and longstanding than this one incident of white male privilege. The more significant problem at play here is that less privileged people who commit crimes — and even those who didn't even commit crimes in the first place — are more likely to endure public scrutiny for not having the same resources to clean up their image, and looking "more guilty" because of it.
For instance, while various law enforcement bodies contested whose responsibility it was to release that mugshot, the only images of Brock Turner the public had access to were yearbook photos, photos from his athletic career, or images of him in court after he had undergone his blatant makeover. The most prominent representations of this convicted assaulter were that of a cheerful young boy, which undoubtedly influenced public perception of him. And because of his perceived privilege, society was unconsciously protecting that image of him by sharing those photos before he even got around to projecting it himself.
On the other hand, people without Turner's privilege (notoriously, black Americans) seem to have their mugshots released comparatively without a delay — sometimes even before an official conviction, and certainly not with the opportunity to clean up the way Turner did.
In fact, the odds are so stacked against people without Turner's privilege that sometimes even when they are the victims of the crime, their mugshots are released — unsubtly making them look less like the victims that they are, and detracting from the public sympathy that they deserve.
But Brock Turner's case clearly wasn't held to those same constrictions that less privileged people are, and he is far from the only one. It easily harks back to the case of Owen Labrie, another prominent student at a top school convicted of sexual assault. His courtroom makeover was similarly drastic, and undoubtedly a strategy to make him more sympathetic to the public as well.
The scary thing is that we know about this ploy. We can see it happening. And yet it works. Brock Turner was sentenced to six months in county jail, a very lenient sentence compared to the 14 years he could have spent in prison, because the judge said that would have had a "severe impact" on him. Owen Labrie was only sentenced to a year in jail, and got out early despite violating bail. And in the meantime, people whose crimes were much less significant continue to endure an entirely different kind of public scrutiny and serve longer sentences, perhaps simply for not having the resources and status that come with Turner and Labrie's privilege.
So yes, Turner's case is a terrifying example of rape culture in 2016. But it is also a terrifying example of just how pervasive racism and classism are in 2016. Brock Turner's mugshot and court makeover is one instance in a long history of convicted men who have used their privilege to attempt to manipulate public sentiment. The sooner we recognize this, the sooner we can create a culture that disregards the appearance, status, and privilege of assaulters, and instead only examines the severity of the crimes they commit.
Images: Courtesy of The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department