An op-ed in Monday’s
underscores the importance of recording custodial interrogations despite the lack of a state law mandating law enforcement to do so.
Using the troubled case of a woman on Arizona’s death row as an example, author Laura H. Nirider describes how legislation mandating the recording of interrogations could have prevented Debra Milke’s 1990 capital conviction of soliciting the murder of her four-year-old son. Milke’s conviction was recently vacated because the only evidence against her was a detective’s claim that she confessed during the interrogation.
But that detective, it turned out, had said a lot of things in the past that weren’t so. He had a long history of misconduct, including repeatedly lying under oath in order to secure convictions. He even accepted sexual favors from a female motorist in exchange for leniency and then lied about it. In tossing out Milke’s conviction and death sentence, the court’s chief judge said of the detective’s testimony: “No civilized system of justice should have to depend on such flimsy evidence.”
In this case, our system relied on trust alone — and a potentially innocent woman paid a horrific price.
Let’s learn from Milke’s case. The Arizona Legislature should trust, but verify: It should require police to electronically record all interrogations from start to finish. Nineteen other states already have such a requirement, ranging from New Mexico to Ohio to North Carolina.
For law enforcement agencies, recording interrogations can prevent disputes about how a suspect was treated, create a clear record of a suspect’s statements and increase public confidence in the criminal justice system. Recording interrogations can also deter officers from using illegal tactics to secure a confession. The record will improve the credibility and reliability of authentic confessions, while protecting the rights of innocent suspects. Additionally, electronic recording of interrogations, from the reading of Miranda rights onward, is the single best reform available to prevent false confessions.
Nirider is the co-director of the
Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth
at Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago.
False Confessions & Mandatory Recording of Interrogations
Police Experiences with Recording Custodial Interrogations