According to the Wikipedia article on Tom Howard (the photographer who famously took a picture of Ruth Snyder's 1928 execution), photographers are banned from U.S. executions (the state of New York unsuccessfully attempted to prosecute Howard and the newspaper he took the photograph on behalf of); why is this so?

  • My guess is that some law was passed and upheld under the auspice that it is deleterious to the public to expose them to such events. And also that to invite them in is to invite them to make a spectacle and public event of it, which is not what the event is supposed to be. But I don't know any facts to back that up. I'm actually a tad surprised this got migrated from Law.SE, but maybe that's an implicit endorsement of this being a mostly political assertion of moral good rather than anything specifically legal. But that's another uncorroborated guess. Jun 29, 2017 at 1:30
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    The last US public hanging (execution) was in 1936 and attracted a huge crowd, Interesting read at nytimes.com/2001/05/06/weekinreview/… . Despite the title the article doesn't really give a specific reason why the KY legislature and the governor passed the law to abandon the practice. -
    – BobE
    Nov 17, 2021 at 4:17
  • Because the State doesn't want to show the populous what it is doing in its name.
    – spring
    Nov 19, 2021 at 0:07

2 Answers 2


In the first half of the 19th century executions were frequently held in public as spectacles. Campaigners such as Charles Dickens protested against this, calling it "inconceivably awful" and noting the "bearing, looks and language of the spectators", and "when the two miserable creatures that had attracted all this ghastly sight about them were turned quivering into the air there was no more emotion, no more pity, no more thought that two immortal souls had gone to judgement, no more restraint in any of the previous obscenities, than if the name of Christ had never been heard in this world."

In short public executions tend to corrupt the public. And allowing cameras at an execution turns it into a public show that lasts as long as the images are published.


Existing case law on this issue is readily available via Lawson v Dixon in North Carolina and Garrett v Estelle in Texas. In this case, and in most states, the legal authority lies with the Warden to maintain "the supervision and control" of the prison.

"...plaintiffs David Lawson, Phillip J. Donahue, and James Arnold do not have a right under either the First or Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution or under Article 1, Section 14 of the North Carolina Constitution to audiotape or videotape plaintiff Lawson's scheduled execution, see Houchins v. KQED, Inc., 438 U.S. 1, 57 L.Ed.2d 553 (1978); Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 41 L.Ed.2d 495 (1974); Saxbe v. Washington Post Co., 417 U.S. 843, 41 L.Ed.2d 514 (1974); Garrett v. Estelle, 556 F.2d 1274 (5th Cir. 1977); that under N.C.G.S. 15-190 the execution is under the supervision and control of Warden Dixon; and that, as a matter of law, neither Secretary Freeman nor Warden Dixon can be mandamused to permit the requested audiotaping or videotaping;"

Lawson v. Dixon, 336 N.C. 312, (N.C. 1994)

As the quote above states, also explore the cited case law:

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    For the curious, mandamused is an actual (legal) word. Jun 30, 2017 at 22:15
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    I'm not a lawyer and don't even play one on the Internet, so thanks for the addition to my limited bank of knowledge on legal terminology! Jul 1, 2017 at 0:27
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    This would be a good answer on SE.Law, but the question here is about the political reasons for having those laws. Nov 17, 2021 at 12:07

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