With strong bipartisan support in the State Legislature, Montana recently enacted a law requiring police statewide to electronically record custodial interrogations in felony criminal cases, becoming the 14th state nationwide to require the recording of interrogations, a reform increasingly seen as an easy and effective way to ensure fair justice for suspects and defendants and to help law enforcement agencies apprehend perpetrators of crimes.
A number of cities and counties across Montana already have adopted recording policies on their own, but HB 534 expands the practice statewide and ensures uniform procedures across jurisdictions. The new law requires police to electronically record custodial interrogations that occur in felony cases. If a statement is not recorded, a judge may reject it as evidence unless it satisfies exceptions provided in the law, such as equipment failure and statements made spontaneously or during routine booking.
Across the nation, about 25 percent of people convicted and later exonerated by DNA evidence were wrongly convicted based on false confessions or admissions. This reform also aids law enforcement by preventing disputes about how an officer conducted himself or treated a suspect; creating a record of statements made by the suspect, which advances prosecutions; and capturing subtle details that may be lost if unrecorded, which help law enforcement better investigate the crime.
Two other major benefits of recording interrogations include saving court time and expense for the justice system by helping judges, juries and attorneys settle disputes about what happened during an interrogation and helping to convict guilty defendants who are less likely to contest officers' reports when faced with independent evidence of their statements.
To date, legislation has been enacted in Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia requiring the recording of interrogations, and state supreme courts have taken action on the issue in Alaska, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire and New Jersey. Legislatures in Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Ohio are considering reforms to mandate the recording of interrogations. Five hundred jurisdictions nationwide have voluntarily adopted policies to record interrogations.