On Thursday, New York Times reporter Jim Dwyer posed the question that many people who care about criminal justice are asking: Why did New York state go yet another year without passing a law requiring the recording of custodial interrogations?
As Dwyer clearly explains, “Recording interrogations is a way to know whether law enforcement—and jurors—can be confident in the confessions that result.”
For almost a decade, the Innocence Project has pushed for legislators to pass a law that would mandate the recording of interrogations across the state for all law enforcement. It’s clear that New York needs one; the problem of false confessions in New York is pervasive.
“In just the last decade, the city and state have paid out tens of millions of dollars to innocent people sent to prison, a startling number of them because of false confessions,” writes Dwyer.
Data from the Innocence Project reveals that false confessions played a role in nearly 30 percent of the nation’s 347 wrongful conviction cases eventually cleared by DNA testing.
Electronic recording provides an irrefutable account of what happens between police and suspects during questioning. Mandating the recording of interrogations, from start to finish, would protect against convictions predicated on false confessions by providing a record of the condition under which a suspect provided any statement. The policy would also disprove any unjust claim of police coercion or brutality.
This past September in a written testimony that he sent to the New York City Council, Robert Boyce, the chief of detectives for the city, “wholeheartedly endorsed the idea of recording the whole process, and he said that it was already city policy,” writes Dwyer. But, as Dwyer prudently points out, “Those are promises, not law. It is a simple matter to see the gulf between a policy announced and the way things actually work.”
Not passing a law is a detriment to everyone, explains Dwyer.
“Without recordings of the interrogations, hearings on disputed confessions drag on for days, wasting time and money,” he writes. In addition, he explains, “When innocent people confess, dangerous criminals are free to continue their violence.”