Since the Pittsburgh Police Department began recording interrogations, the practice is slowly gaining acceptance throughout the state, according to an op-ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Former U.S. attorney Peter Vaira noted in the piece that before more departments embrace the practice, the state should amend the state’s eavesdropping statute to exclude police interrogations.
It hasn’t spread quickly, though, partly because Pennsylvania’s eavesdropping statute doesn’t allow recording of a conversation without both parties’ consent. Although suspects who agree to an interrogation will usually agree to recording, the consent requirement can impede questioning.
False confessions have contributed to approximately 25% of the wrongful convictions overturned with DNA evidence, and electronic recording of interrogations, from the reading of Miranda rights onward, is the single best reform available to stem the tide of false confessions.
Video or audio recordings of interrogations allow any allegations of improper police conduct to be easily verified or refuted. And they spare courts and juries the arduous task of trying to resolve conflicting testimony from police and defendants as to what occurred.
Vaira contends that Pennsylvania should require that interrogations of anyone suspected of a homicide or other violent crime be electronically recorded from the beginning, as is already the case in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C.
Any confession presented in court should be obtained the right way from a defendant who actually committed the crime.