False confessions are more common than most people think they are. Of the 212 DNA exonerations cases to date, more than 25 percent involved a false confession or admission. And the problem isn’t limited to cases involving biological evidence — the cases overturned by DNA testing are just a fraction of wrongful convictions, since DNA testing is an option in only a small percentage of all criminal cases.
Electronic recording of interrogations has been proven to prevent false confessions and to assist law enforcement officials in documentation of investigations and training. Several states – including Maryland — will consider reforms this year requiring that law enforcement agencies record custodial interrogations. A bill in the Maryland House of Delegates would require recording in investigations of murders, rapes, and first- and second-degree sex offenses. This is the third consecutive year Maryland lawmakers have considered such a bill.
As law-enforcement leaders from around Maryland milled about waiting for the House Judiciary Committee hearing to begin, the tenor of this year's resistance was best uttered by James Green, a Baltimore City police lawyer. "It's a bad thing," he said of HB 6. "But we need a lot of money if it's going to become a good thing." According to the bill's fiscal note, city police would require close to 10 interview rooms costing $10,000 per room, and the state's cumulative cost over the first five years of the law's implementation would be about $500,000….
Eight states and Washington, D.C., now require videotaped interrogations, and Anderson told the committee that local jurisdictions in every state require it. Top cops who made the transition against their better judgment at the outset have since become proponents. Massachusetts district attorney William M. Bennett, for example, told Lawyers Weekly last year that he'd opposed the change because he thought it would result "in a number of defendants refusing to give statements. They might be willing to speak to the police, but they'd be hesitant and reluctant to be recorded. I was wrong."
Read more about Maryland’s proposed law here
. (Baltimore City Paper, 01/23/08)
More on false confessions & admissions:
A new book by false confession expert Richard Leo, “Police Interrogation and American Justice,” considers the history and current state of criminal investigation in the U.S. and weighs investigatory tactics against the possibilities of wrongful conviction. The book is scheduled to be released soon and has already received glowing reviews from leaders in the field.
Pre-order the book here (a portion of each sale will benefit the Innocence Project)
Chicago attorney Thomas P. Sullivan found in a 2004 report that more than 500 law enforcement agencies around the United States actively record interrogations, and “their experiences have been uniformly positive.”
Read Sullivan’s full report here
Does your state have a statute requiring the recording of interrogations?
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