In California, a bill that would require law enforcement agencies to videotape the interrogation of minors suspected of having committed murder, was recently approved by a key Assembly committee on a bipartisan basis. With false confessions playing a role in about 25% of DNA exoneration cases, mandatory recording of interrogations is the single best reform available to prevent them. A column in Monday’s edition of U-T San Diego underlines the importance of legislation to stem the tide of coerced confessions.
“One of the worst evils government can perpetrate is to convict someone who is innocent,” said Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance who introduced the bill.
Confessions obtained from juveniles are often unreliable – teens can be easy to manipulate and are not always fully aware of their situation. Both juveniles and adults are often convinced that that they can go home as soon as they admit guilt, even though they didn’t commit the crime.
According to supports, Bill 569 is a small imposition that can prevent disputes about how a suspect was treated, create a clear record of a suspect’s statements and increase public confidence in the criminal justice system.
While the proposed legislation is a step in the right direction, it would still allow police to use videotaped confessions that take place spontaneously as evidence.
The bill still has hurdles. But it may be a test case to see if simple, good-government criminal-justice reform can pass amid all the lawsuits and political posturing.