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Recording Interrogations Improves the Criminal Justice System

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Posted: December 10, 2012   5:00 PM

A recent Huffington Post blog makes a cogent argument for mandated statewide recording of police interrogations. Nearly a decade after Illinois enacted the first law requiring that custodial interrogations in murder cases must be recorded from start to finish, more than a dozen other states have enacted similar legislation. In addition, over 800 police departments across the country record custodial interrogations voluntarily.
The legislation varies from state to state as there are different requirements for what felonies should be recorded and how. Whatever the legislation mandates, electronic recording of interrogations, from the reading of Miranda rights onward, is the single best reform available to stem the tide of false confessions.
And while it can be hard to understand why someone would falsely confess to a crime, DNA exonerations have proven that the problem is more widespread than many people think. In approximately 25% of the wrongful convictions overturned with DNA evidence, defendants pled guilty or made false confessions or admissions to law enforcement officials.
The Huffington Post blog, co-authored by Geoffrey Stone and Thomas Sullivan, reads:

After some hesitation and resistance, law enforcement's reception of these statewide recording mandates has become extremely positive. They recognize the many benefits of recording confessions: detectives are better able to concentrate on the interview rather than on note taking; there are no longer disputes about what was said and done during the interrogation; officers who might otherwise be tempted to play fast-and-loose with the rules are deterred from doing so; it is more difficult for interviewed suspects to bring trumped-up charges against police officers for alleged misconduct; and public confidence in the fairness of the criminal justice system is enhanced. All in all, this common sense reform has worked extraordinarily well.

Stone and Sullivan argue that leaving the decision up to the discretion of individual police departments, without mandatory legislation, is not enough.

This is a simple problem, with a simple solution. The use of electronic recordings has resulted in increased police professionalism, preclusion of testimonial disputes about what took place during closed-door interrogations, fewer motions to suppress confessions, more pleas of guilty, fewer false confessions, fewer wrongful prosecutions and unjust convictions, and substantial savings of time and money. The time has come for all law enforcement organizations to support mandatory state laws that require the use of electronic recording systems during custodial interviews. This is a simple, sensible and effective way to improve our nation's system of criminal justice.

Read the full article.
More about False Confessions & Mandatory Recording of Interrogations.

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