Bill would protect against false confession and accusation, enhance public safety, and save taxpayer money
(Topeka, KS – Feb. 11, 2016) Floyd Bledsoe, who was wrongfully convicted of murder and sexual assault and spent more than 15 years in prison before being exonerated by DNA evidence in December, today joined the Innocence Project and others in testifying before the Kansas House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice in support of a bill (
) that would require all Kansas law enforcement agencies to record the entirety of interrogations related to murder and rape. HB 2593, introduced by Rep. Ramon Gonzalez (R-Perry), would protect against false confession and accusation, enhance public safety by enabling law enforcement to identify the truly guilty and protect taxpayers from multimillion-dollar settlements and awards that could result from wrongful convictions.
Floyd’s wrongful conviction might have been prevented had police recorded the entirety of the interrogations of him and those of his brother, Tom, who is now believed to have been the perpetrator of the sexual assault and murder of then 16-year-old Camille Arfmann, Floyd’s sister-in-law. Tom originally turned himself in to police and confessed to the crime, but later recanted and blamed Floyd. Floyd always maintained his innocence, and had police recorded all of the interrogations of both Tom and Floyd, the jury would have been able to better assess who was telling the truth. Tom later committed suicide and in a letter confessed again to the murder and apologized for falsely tying Floyd to the crime.
Nationally, 19 states mandate recording of interrogations and federal law enforcement agencies including the FBI, ATF and U.S. Marshalls record interrogations for all crimes. Recording interrogations has numerous benefits to law enforcement, prosecutors and Kansas taxpayers. The practice safeguards against false confession, which, nationally, has played a role in over one-quarter of wrongful convictions proven by DNA evidence. One such false confession and subsequent wrongful conviction involved Kansan Eddie Lowery, a soldier stationed at Fort Riley who falsely confessed to a rape after hours of interrogation and abusive tactics by police. Such actions might not have been used by police if they were required to record Lowery’s interrogation.
Additionally, recording of interrogations can prevent taxpayer-funded wrongful conviction settlements and awards. For less than $50, law enforcement agencies can purchase a video camera. This small investment will go a long way in preventing a wrongful conviction that could result in a multimillion-dollar settlement, such as the $7.5 million that was awarded to Lowery after he had 21 years of his life stolen from him.
Finally, by recording interrogations, law enforcement will be better able to evaluate the truthfulness of the witness, ultimately enabling police to better identify the real perpetrator of a crime, and thus not run the risk of aiding in the wrongful conviction of an innocent person, which could leave the truly guilty person free to harm others. Real perpetrators who were identified in false confession cases proven by DNA evidence remained free to commit and be convicted of 46 additional violent crimes, including 11 murders and 24 rapes. So there is a real public safety implication to this legislation.
Floyd was joined at today’s hearing by Jim Trainum, a former homicide detective with the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and expert on the phenomenon of false confession, and members of the Innocence Project and Midwest Innocence Project, all of whom testified in support of HB 2593.
“Being in prison for a decade and half not only robbed me of my life. It robbed my children of a father and my wife of a husband. And it robbed Camille’s family of the justice they deserved. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what could have been done to prevent my wrongful conviction, and I strongly believe that if police had recorded all of my interrogations and those of my brother, I might not have lost more than 15 years of my life,” said Floyd Bledsoe, DNA exoneree. “I urge this committee and the legislature to pass this important bill; no Kansan should ever have to endure the horror I experienced.”
“Recording interrogations is an exercise in transparency and accountability, and will only improve police work and build public trust. This legislation will help law enforcement fulfill its mission of protecting and serving the citizens of Kansas. I encourage the committee and legislators to vote Yes,” said Jim Trainum, a former homicide detective, and false confession expert.
“We wholeheartedly support HB 2593 which would create a uniform statewide practice of recording interrogations. While some may say that a voluntary policy is enough, the reality is that without a requirement to record, a Kansan in one part of the state may not have the same protections as a Kansan in another area,” said Tricia Bushnell, Legal Director of the Midwest Innocence Project and a member of the legal team that helped exonerate Floyd.
“Electronic recording not only improves justice, but it improves efficiency and savings in the criminal justice system, and we thank Rep. Gonzalez for his leadership on this issue,” said Michelle Feldman, State Policy Advocate for the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law.