Would Max Soffar Be on Death Row If Police Had Recorded His Interrogation?


An article published today by The Marshall Project points to the case of Max Soffar as one that may have been prevented had there been mandatory recording of interrogations in place at the time of his arrest.  Soffar is currently one of the longest-serving death row inmates in Texas, having spent 33 years on death row and counting. According to The Marshall Project, Soffar’s case has gained more attention lately due to the fact that he is suffering from liver cancer.

Normally, an person dying on death row might not create a stir amongst the media and the public, but Soffar’s case has gained popular support because he claims he is innocent. Soffar’s claims of innocence have drawn a long list of supporters, including Andrew Horne of the law firm Kirkland & Ellis, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project.

According to a CBS report from October, Soffar was convicted of a robbery gone wrong at a Houston bowling alley in 1980, which left three people dead. Soffar’s conviction rested on a confession that he gave to police after a total of 26 hours of interrogation, which was not recorded. CBS writes that according to the ACLU, which is assisting in Soffar’s legal defense, the then-24-year-old Soffar had the mental capacity of an 11-year-old due to a long history of brain damage and substance abuse, which puts the interrogation itself into question. The Marshall Project writes, “. . . had Soffar been arrested today, there is one piece of evidence that could have helped judges, journalists, and the public definitively swing one way or another on the question of his guilt: a recording of his interrogation.”

Soffar’s case is particularly relevant this week because tomorrow Texas lawmakers will decide whether to pass a bill that would require police to record interrogations for suspects of violent crimes, writes The Marshall Project. There is much evidence pointing to the benefits of recording interrogations, which is particularly moving when it comes to many cases of forced or coerced confessions that have landed innocent people behind bars for heinous crimes while the real perpetrators walked free.

Although 20 states have passed similar legislation in recent years, a shift in policy for Texas is not certain. In 2013, writes The Marshall Project, a bill on recording interrogations failed to gain momentum,  despite support by police for recording interrogations, writes The Marshall Project.

Read the full Marshall Project article here.

Read the CBS report on Max Soffar’s case here.

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