Friday, November 29, 2013

The upsides of recording custodial police interrogations

Regular readers know that requiring police to record custodial interrogations, especially in the most serious cases, is the final recommendation of the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions that the Texas Legislature has yet to implement. The Crime Report this week published a good overview of the hows and whys of the issue, noting that the International Association of Police Chiefs has embraced the idea:
The International Association of Chiefs of Police has made wrongful convictions a priority. A recent article from Police Chief Magazine reported that the best practices to avoid false confession include recording the entirety of interrogations, and keeping secret some crime details to ensure innocent suspects do not just parrot back inside information gleaned from their interrogators.

Richard Leo, an academic who has been doing empirical research on police interrogation practices for 20 years and is a frequent expert witness in cases involving false confessions, said he is seeing a growing movement nationally to record confessions.

Leo said the movement has developed because of greater understanding of what causes false confessions. He listed, for example: 
  • lying to suspects about the evidence against them;
  • the length of interrogations;
  • the propensity of people to comply with authority;
  • mental illness or low intelligence;
  • and implications from police interrogators that if a suspect makes an admission, he is “not admitting to a crime or admitting to something that has very serious consequences.”
Not only does recording interrogations help prevent false convictions (or at least identify them after the fact), it also provides better evidence for prosecutors and juries, prevents he-said she-said disputes about what went on in interrogation rooms, serves as a buffer against police misconduct, and prevents false accusations against police interrogators. “I think that police officers and prosecutors, properly trained, could do this and do it well,” said a prosecutor quoted in the story. “It would just enhance the cases and take away a lot of the arguments about coercion and force and things of that nature.”

One hopes the Texas Legislature will prioritize this issue when it re-convenes for its 84th session in 2015.

See related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

One of the most powerful arguments for recording police interrogations is by looking at the Debra Milke case.

Michael said...

As an officer, I'm all for recording interrogations and interviews. Recordings are very beneficial for both LE and the suspect(s). However, not all suspects will talk with law enforcement "knowing" they are being recorded custodial or not. That might surprise some. Some of the individuals I've interviewed do not want to be labeled as "cooperating" with LE and further do not want their cooperation preserved for others to know or learn about in prison or on the street. This is more applicable in either criminal conspiracy or engaging in organized criminal activity cases. Recording interviews is a best practice, but not an absolute.

On the federal level, interviews are generally not recorded. While I've filed multiple federal cases, I have never really understood why. In fact recording interviews appears to be discouraged at the federal level.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Michael, the bill the cops have been fighting tooth and nail at the Texas Lege includes an exception if the suspect doesn't want to be recorded. That just has to be documented.

rodsmith said...

Or could just make sure the bill has it stated that all recording will be used for safety and verification purposes for both law enforcement and the suspect and any recording will be destroyed if no charges are pressed

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Fuck that shit! Read the improved Miranda Warning. Allow the suspect to contact his / her lawyer and once present Record it all and keep it all. One copy goes to Cops, one to the DA & one to the lawyer. You never know when you'll need proof of your innocence (like filing for a Full Pardon - for / based on innocence).

If anyone still thinks that simply recording what someone assumes to be a "Serious" crime is the ticket to preventing false arrests from morphing into wrongful convictions, they haven't been falsely arrested and subsequentally wrongfully convicted. FWIW - one day in prison is pretty damn serious when you consider all of the but pirates and all.

I know, "the good & evil" mantra but think about it. If we allow the cops to Cherry Pick the crimes to document on the front end and learn about them not recording (due to the type of crime) and later on charge with a Serious crime (like probation revocation), we get what we allowed. No records, just the same ol police incident reports outlining what everyone said.

I think we should record it all with no deletion motions being granted until 3 years after the case is Closed via a court of law and after 5 years of being released from jail / prison.

To this very day, I still wonder why the Panel would choose to limit the types of crimes to document. The bad cops will simply move on over to non-serious crimes to utilize as promotions, just as they have done regarding DNA related crimes. Now, they concentrate on non-DNA crimes knowing that the innocent projects are actively ignoring them. Thanks.

*If it's (criminal justice system reformation)got anything to do with Cherry Picking for Justice, I'm against it. Might as well allow them to record from the knees down and only during full moons if we are going to continue to cherry pick.