Monday, April 20, 2009

Jurors from false confession case call for recorded interrogations

Three jurors from the infamous Richard Danziger case coauthored a column in the Houston Chronicle over the weekend arguing that interrogations should be recorded to give jurors better evidence ("Jurors regret convicting innocent man," April 18):

When we were called to serve as jurors in an Austin sexual assault and murder case, we could never have predicted the ending of this story. Twelve years after we found Richard Danziger guilty of aggravated sexual assault, new DNA evidence revealed that Richard was, in fact, innocent. This shocking discovery left us confused, angry and wondering how this tragic error could have ever happened. ...

Unfortunately, Danziger’s case is not unique. False confessions have played a role in about 25 percent of the 234 DNA exonerations across the country. Whether because of mental incapacity, youth or persuasive threats, DNA evidence proved that each of these people was convicted of a crime he did not commit.

We were horrified to learn after Danziger’s exoneration that Ochoa’s interrogation was characterized by lies about inculpatory evidence and threats that if he did not confess and testify against Danziger, he would receive the death penalty. None of this came to light during the trial, however, because there was no record of the interrogation procedure. Had we been given the opportunity to see the context of Ochoa’s confession, including the coercive tactics that were used for hours against him, we would have at least had something to deliberate about. We did the best we could with the evidence provided to us; unfortunately, that evidence was dangerously incomplete, undocumented and untrue. ...

If interrogations are recorded in their entirety — from the reading of rights to the end — jurors will have access to a clear, complete picture of the circumstances that led to a confession. This is essential in order to effectively evaluate the quality of that evidence. While many police departments have begun to record suspect interrogations, there is currently no requirement that they do so. Some things are too important to leave optional, and we think this is one of them. A complete record of suspect interrogations documents a crucial part of a criminal investigation, and it is essential for jurors to do their jobs well and reach justice.

I'd recently discussed pending legislation to require recording interrogations (HB 4090 by Farrar) which I'm hoping will be voted out of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee this week. Meanwhile, Sen. Ellis' somewhat weaker companion bill, SB 116, has yet to receive enough support to make it out of the Senate. Neither bill would exclude information from court under any circumstances, though Rep. Farrar's bill would give a jury instruction if an interrogation wasn't recorded; a long list of exceptions gives judges discretion not to apply the instruction where it's unwarranted.

The Danziger jurors offer an incredibly powerful argument for why both legislative chambers need to act on this legislation pronto. There's nothing partisan or ideological about these bills - they're solely about ensuring juries, judges, and other decisionmakers have access to the best possible evidence on which to base their decisions. It's hard for me to understand why anyone would oppose that.


123txpublicdefender123 said...

Good for these jurors! Richard Danziger is a horrible victim of injustice. What he suffered in prison is a tragedy. He did not die, as Tim Cole did, but he was grievously injured.

My experience with jurors is that they WANT every piece of evidence they can get their hands on. Obviously, there are some good reasons for excluding some things from evidence, even if the jurors want them, but a recording of an interrogation has no such reasons.

FYI, the FBI is absolutely the worst on this issue. The last time I checked, not only did they not record interrogations, they were prohibited from doing so by policy, unless they got special permission.

Rage Judicata said...

The jurors write about two different issues. While the DNA exonerated the guy, the false confession could and should have been examined independently. Perhaps the DNA made them take a second look at the confession, and of course police tactics are inherently non-discoverable, but their being appalled at the tactics used to induce the confession should have been brought up on their own.

Anonymous said...

this is not unusual for me to hear "TEXAS" is a republican state and very predjudice state who favors white people only when it comes to crime, blacks and hispanics has no chance when it comes to crimminal justice system. ther is no justice for blacks and hispanics most of the jury are all "white" and the judges are predjudice they dont chose black jurors because most dont believe in the death penalty, but killing is a way of life for predjudice white people a black life or hispanic has no value to white people they have no compassion for them, the offenders family, children, mother, father it is a sad thing. when god made all of us the same way, for some odd reason white people have it in their mind their superior over all other races, hopefully before they leave this earth they will think about how many people they have killed by sending them to death row. god is the judge not jurors he gave life and he should decide who should live and die not man or woman no matter what the situation is jesus christ died on the cross for us all a terrible death and he has compassion for all human life and to forgive us all he is a forgiving god humans are not compassion or forgiving you dont do evil for evil

Informed Citizen said...

GRITS - Maybe I have become overly cynical. But your comment "it's hard to believe anyone would be against it" fails to recognize that there are an abundance of traitors living off the public dole in our country.
Today's Neo-Confederates believe that ALL of the people of Texas are inherently guilty. ALL of those living off the public dole are inherently innocent. IOW; those who are employed in the private sector of our economy - the true taxpayers - are of the status once reserved for our countrymen of color.
Those whose income is from tax-dollars are now the Titled Noblility - just like the Kings and his chosen ruling elite in the time of Feudalism. They want to be able to punish, oppress, and plunder the people of Texas at will. ---------
Juries are just props for a show. We used to see and the phrase "show trial" in the media during the cold war. What was a common practice in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union is now the common practice here. Many now know this and don't even want to bother serving on a jury. They know its all for show.
Anon 9:59 = The word "slave" is derived from the word "Slav". These are WHITE Europeans who were enslaved under Feudulism during the dark ages of Europe. Today; We the People of the US of A are ALL Slavs. ALL of us are Niggers to the Titled Nobility (who hide under the label "public servant"), regardless of the color of our skin. The sooner we all realize it the better our chance of regaining the blessing of liberty.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Informed, you seem decidedly UN-informed. Not only do I agree with literally nothing you've written here, your rant is entirely off-topic.

Indeed, many of your comments contain similar themes that almost NEVER have anything to do with the topic of the post. Nobody here needs a revisionist history lesson of what happened in the 16th century or legal analyses that predate Marbury v. Madison. Your constant comparisons to Nazis, Stalin, etc., only make you look foolish and discredit your points. Please stop, or else publish such screeds somewhere else. I'm going to start deleting them when they don't relate to the subject at hand.