"She was wobbly," explains a police source within the Atlanta Department of Corrections. "She didn't need help walking, but she wasn't at a point where we could get a really clear picture."
The actress and husband Jim Toth were arrested early Friday morning after he was pulled over under suspicion of driving while intoxicated in Atlanta. In her apology for her behavior, she said she "clearly had one drink too many."
According to the source, police took more than one photograph and chose the best one.
"On another picture, she sort of bent down at the waist and we got the top of her head," says the source. "She wasn't being difficult or rude, but her motor skills weren't what they needed to be."
The unorthodox picture has the Atlanta police and legal communities talking – and wondering if Witherspoon got preferential treatment.
"You can't look down in the photograph," says Atlanta criminal defense attorney Peter Odom. "The whole point of a mugshot is for identification purposes. To my knowledge, there is no exception to this rule."
"When someone is in custody, there isn't a lot of personal space," Odom continues. "They will grab your head and move it into the right position to get the right mugshot. But in this case, protocol was definitely not followed."
The charges against Witherspoon were minor, says the source, so there was no need to force the issue and make the star stare dead ahead.
"This isn't a big case and there's not much more investigation that has to be done," says the source, "so getting a clear picture of the suspect looking at the camera wasn't absolutely necessary."