Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Recording interrogations in best interest of law enforcement, justice

I'm headed up to the capitol this morning to testify in favor of legislation to require recording custodial police interrogations on behalf of the Innocence Project of Texas, so I thought I'd point readers to past Grits posts on the subject:
The main argument being trotted out against the idea by law enforcement appears to be cost, but digital audio recording equipment has become quite cheap and given the potential costs of false convictions - not to mention extra expenses for suppression hearings, etc., made necessary by an unrecorded interrogation - the cost of relatively inexpensive recording equipment would be de minimus. These aren't like the in-car dashcams that require more sophisticated systems to operate. Requirements under this bill would be satisfied with a cheap digital recorder from Radio Shack.

Trumping the meager cost is the benefit from stronger cases, fewer suppression hearings, and protection for officers falsely accused of misconduct. If a recording exists of the entire interrogation, it may occasionally generate evidence of a false confession, but more than 9 times out of 10 (where a confession is legitimate), it would likely benefit the prosecution more than the defense.

I get the sense that much of the opposition to this idea comes more or less out of habit, not from some well-thought out policy stance. Some folks are so used to opposing every single reform suggestion that comes down the pike, they simply don't bother to look past who's proposing the idea to decide if it's a good one. In this case, as the saying goes, opponents are cutting off their nose to spite their collective face.

See also a public policy report from The Justice Project on the national trend toward recording custodial interrogations.


shg said...

Good luck. Please remember to emphasize how critical it is that the entire interrogation be recorded, and that anything not recorded be precluded from admission.

Also, that submission to the shield at the scene or in the ride back manifests as a confession in front of the video camera, preventing the defendant from showing how improper pressures were applied outside the camera's eye and the videotaped recording may only include the sanitized statement, with none of the coercion that preceded it.

Anonymous said...

Never speak to the cops with out a attorney when they are asking questions . You are a suspect even if they do not say so . Simply say with all due respect sir , I do not have any thing to say to you. Then ask if you are free to go .That should end the contact if they push it state you would like attorney present. At that point the cops should either make a arrest and state the charges or let you go about your business You can all to easily end up in prison just because you thought you were being helpful.

123txpublicdefender123 said...

I don't have time to read the whole thing; I just want to reiterate what shg said--the entire interrogation must be recorded! In Texas, we already have the protection requiring any statement by the defendant to be recorded or in writing to be admissible in court--something I miss in my adopted home state where so many times, I just have an officer saying that my client confessed. But, the "confession" being recorded only proves that the defendant made the statement--it does nothing to inform the court or the jury about the voluntariness and the reliability of the confession.

Rage Judicata said...

...it does nothing to inform the court or the jury about the voluntariness and the reliability of the confession.I guess some people will never be happy.

Something tells me that if the entire interrogation is recorded, you'll be able to see whether or not they're beating the defendant with a rubber hose while he cofesses and/or judge his demeanor. It's a damn sight better than the cop's word alone, and short of following the defendant from arrest to trial it's pretty much the best thing that can be done.

123txpublicdefender123 said...

I guess some people will never be happy.

Something tells me that if the entire interrogation is recorded, you'll be able to see whether or not they're beating the defendant with a rubber hose while he cofesses and/or judge his demeanor. It's a damn sight better than the cop's word alone, and short of following the defendant from arrest to trial it's pretty much the best thing that can be done.
I don't think you read what I said correctly. As I said, "the entire interrogation must be recorded! . . . the "confession" being recorded only proves that the defendant made the statement--it does nothing to inform the court or the jury about the voluntariness and the reliability of the confession."

My point was that if you record only the confession/statement, but not the interrogation leading up to it, then you don't have any insight on the reliability and voluntariness of the confession. I totally agree that recording the interrogation, so you can see if any kind of coercive and deceptive measures were taken, is very helpful. And it would make me very happy.

TxBluesMan said...

Why worry about it.

The Gov will veto it if it passes...


Anonymous said...

it was good seeing you this morning Scott. ana

dirty harry said...

I wonder if videotaping a police interrogation will guarrantee anything. There was an amazing case last year in Shreveport, LA, regarding a 42 year-old woman who was beaten to a pulp during a police interrogation and it was all caught on video except the part where the camera was turned off for several seconds. When the camera is turned back on, she is seen lying on the floor in a pool of blood. The video was shown several times on the local news, and even the part that was caught on video was appalling. The interrogating officer was eventually fired, and the department sued. But, the officer was never charged! If you are interested, Google the Angela Garbarino case.

Anonymous said...

If the interrogation is recorded, the District Attorney should not have the option to edit to suit their selfish desires to just win. There are many young unlicensed DAs who are there just to win a case and I watched a trial, had seen the original tape, and the tape shown in court was not the original tape. It had been edited and some of the information eliminated the most important part had been eliminatedl; how does one stop this??


Folks, we have had recorded statement laws for many years. To require that confessions be recorded in totality lest be inadmissable then you are jeapordizing the solution rate of crime. You presume all lawmen are corrupt which is not true.

The law allows for verbal confessions by the way contrary to a post hereon.

Any confession that leads to the fruits of the crime is inadmissble.

This requirement would make an already difficult job even more difficult and less successful.

Am I all for cops? No, but I approach this matter with common sense. I believe all things should be tested stringently, especially confessions and searches of people and things.

Yes I am a former lawman, had a confession once where a youngster confessed to 2 killings and then burning of the bodies and evidence.

Lawyer walked in and halted the signing of the confession. What he said though led me to the tools of the crime and identity of the decedents. The crime would have been unresolved with the requirements you insist be placed on lawmen now.

Yes the rights of people and presumption of innocence is the most important thing in our law.

We have too many laws and too many overzealous young kiddie cops for me to stomach. But we have to get rid of some of the scum that walks this earth as predators on US.

I am all for your efforts but the entire set of consequences needs to be examined.

Anonymous said...

To respond to Brazoria: assuming no confession, the crime would not have been unresolved; you would possibly have had to perform some police work. Secondly, what was occurring during the interview session that you believe would have caused to be excluded any information obtained as a result of the "youngsters" statements had it been recorded? I am also assuming that if a recording law would have been in effect at the time of the incident you describe, your agency would have obtained and utilized recording equipment, so I don't see how the information obtained would have been excluded--assuming compliance with the law.
The proposed law is not an either/or straw man argument regarding recordings/confessions. Just follow the proposed law, and there won't be any problems with admissibility.


I joined this site as I felt that the contributors would for the most part have the same basic ideas that I have regarding "law".

The biggest problem with these type blogs is that some, and I say some, have no experience whatsoever with the matter they are discussing.

The taking of confessions is and always has been a function of "police work".

Based on that one comment I have nothing much to say as that says it all. You have no clue what goes on in the real world.

That is a shame that the absence of experience and thought concerning the matter coupled with some knee jerk reaction disallows the blogger the ability of full thought.

It seems that the problem is not the law but a dislike for the "police".

Recorded statements, written statements and oral statements have been around a long time. They exist to be tested, the idea is not to make it easier for defense attorneys but to see that the rights of the individual are maintained with some ability to allow the law to be enforced at the same time.

We do not and cannot live in a sterile world. The comment that I would have had to do some "police work" is a ridiculous and inflammatory comment. Especially knowing that the author has no idea what was done to begin with.

Who can predict the future? Maybe "police work" may have solved the double homicide but it so happened that this dumb cop happened upon the individual who told the tale, I suppose the proper thing to do would have been to refuse his statement to preserve the pristine image some have of this world we live in.

I restate, yes I am an former cop of 35 years and I find great fault with our prevailing laws and the manner in which they are enforced.

But we must be able to put someone as responsible without having first to clear that with the defense attorneys association.

I work for the latter by the way.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Brazoria Couty - where and how does this post "presume all lawmen are corrupt" or express "dislike for police"? What in heaven's name are you talking about? Please point to the specific comments you're basing that on. I think it's a straw man.

In the example you gave in your first comment, why would recording your conversation with the suspect before his lawyer got there have harmed your case instead of improving it? IMO it would have made it easier by preserving confession evidence given to you before the attorney arrived, assuming the suspect was otherwise legitimately interrogated (e.g., he hadn't already asked for an attorey, etc.). I don't think a recording would have hindered your work and arguably would have benefited your case in the instance you describe. EXACTLY why do you disagree?

To clarify something in your second comment, current law requires oral confessions to be recorded, but also a) allows them to be written instead and b) doesn't require the entire interrogation to be recorded, just a statement at the end. This legislation would give a jury instruction (in the tiny fraction of cases that actually go to trial) if interrogations aren't recorded to say that recording is state policy and police didn't do it, but the evidence is still admissible.

Bluesy, the Gov has never vetoed this bill or anything like it and your buddies at the police unions did NOT oppose it (only one prosecutor from Montgomery County spoke in opposition). Try reserving your comments for areas where you actually know something to contribute instead of making it up as you go along.

TxBluesMan said...


Actually current law does not require that oral confessions be recorded under certain circumstances, just like Brazoria noted.

You're also correct and I was mistaken about the veto - I thought that he had vetoed a similar bill previously, but was wrong.

In any event, I'm sure you're aware that he will probably veto this one if it passes...


There is no point in telling Grits what is obvious to most of the rest of us, that he is biased against the police. He won't admit it.


If I said there was a requirement for recording I was in error, there is not, there are statutory guidelines for recording statements.

I want to reiterate something again, 35 years I have great and many problems with the enforcement of our laws as effected by many of our current lawmen.

I always thought of myself as a "redneck" until now. Personal rights are being trampled on.

Where is the day when you took the drunk home when he is two houses down from his, home? Instead of wiping out his weekly paycheck with a jail visit.

Where are the days where fines were levied consistent with the manner in which a violation was committed, not just because.

Hurricane Ike, mandatory evacuation, 22 year old man evacuating, moving some of the valuable property with him. Just left his fathers house in his grandfathers car, within 30 minutes. Grandfather, a certified Texas lawman, carried a pistol in his glovebox, grandfather had spilled a prescription drug on the floorboard, he missed one under the passenger seat. The 22 year old man went to jail for the pistol even though current law says he can carry IN THE VEHICLE absent CHL. That is of course unless the 22 year old committed a crime of Class B or above, the officer alleged he did, possession of prescription drugs that were not his. BUT- also added with the presence of the drug was DUI. Added for flavor. Ironically the 22 year old, a 275 pound Division I defensive lineman had his own current prescription for the very same brand and strength drug.

No investigation , calls refused by the arresting officer, no checking with the pharmacy, refusal by the arresting officer to accept statements from family members and friends who were with the man immediately prior to his arrest. I add that the man is a 2 time national heavyweight boxing champion in addition to many all state football accolades. He had just sparred with a pro fighter prior to his arrest getting in a few minutes work before evacuation and moving of property. Intoxicated while sparring?

But to jail he went charged with unlawfully carrying a weapon, DUI, possession of narcotics and , and, and, possession of prohibited weapons which were MINE- miniature plastic knuckles MINIATURE!

The cases were quickly dismissed by the prosecutor. The Chief had questions. But as we all know there is no recourse is there?

But the circumstances by which this man was arrested ......makes me sick.

I could go on with great venom about our personal freedoms.

1 year ago while visiting the site where a young girl was found skeletonized along a major highway, a case I worked..in 1982..yes that is 27 years ago...a local lawman came up, took me down, took my identification, ran my license plates, ran my criminal history, mine and my friend with me. The officer acknowledged he knew who I was but ..but ...BUT... I was at the scene of a crime and he needed to follow up..He might have been 5 years old when this crime was committed.

Complaint to the Chief resulted in a copy and pasted return to me of some quotes from some classroom material....all supporting the officer's "right" to do what he did "pre-arrest". Pre-arrest??

Then other matters of search and seizure since my retirement.will not go there.

If I am a redneck as I thought , what in the hell are these officers doing as I have just described? And I have not detailed the search of my residence in my out of town absence resulting from a loud music complaint down the street from me.

No one can tell me about right and wrong, search and seizure..it actually was one of my jobs in my District Attorney career.

The problem is that officers think they have "rights", not priveleges to enforce the the law.

We will be in further trouble with the passage of the Failure to Identify bill now in the Senate folks. That bill designed to aid officers with bad guys soon will be interpreted by some officers as their right to stop people simply to know who they are and absent reasonable cause.

Ya know, you can be stopped absent reasonable cause actually , by an officer to simply check to see if you have a valid license. The statutory privelege of driving on public highways is not criminal, it is administrative, you can be stopped. What will happen with this little tidbit coupled with the failure to identify?

Yes, we are in trouble.

I do not hate law officers, they are generally great dedicated folks. One in a thousand creates the bad image.

I remain active in case analysis, I am convinced that our many serial killers roaming, 200 plus, in these United States, have among them.....peace officers..who need to be identified and eliminated to save our beautiful children being killed and raped. In need of elimination are those officers applying their own interpretations wildly to prevailing law.

Lets protest our failing rights but lets not cut off all means by which the good people of law enforcement utilize to do just this.

Imagine, a State where confessions are useless and inadmissable unless they are digitally recorded.

The arrest of a serial killer who knows the law, as they do, and laughingly and without recording confesses to the murder of 20 women and tells where their bodies may be found.

But, the traffic violation is the only charge that will hold and he walks free, standing 50 feet away from officers unearthing the bodies he told them about.

Far out ...maybe not


Yes sir, I really do not care if Grits is biased against the police, it is an evening out process. I will disagree with Grits but will never say he does not have the privelege of making statements.

This is a good blog, good people.

TxBluesMan said...


Don't take my earlier post the wrong way.

Scott (Grits) is still one of the best bloggers around, and lets all sides be heard - otherwise I would have been tossed off the board a long time ago. I know that some of my posts get him irritated, but he has never tried to silence me or to tell me to go away.

He's just sees things from the ACLU/Innocence Project perspective...


I am not ACLU oriented but see the positive in many things they do and say.

I am for freedom 1000%, the things I have experienced are more than normal and usual.

Too stringent of things though hurt us, I am for more stringent monitoring and review of law enforcement actions.

I now believe an investigator should be normally assigned to major cases for the defense. I would have punched a wall hearing that years ago.

No I did not take the wrong way.

Evening out, leavening....all brands of folks and their input. That is what this country is all about.