[Hat Tip: Dave Shapiro, who posted this article on the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Association listserv.]
UTEP hosted a conference called “Interrogations & Confessions: A Conference Exploring Current Research, Practice, and Policy,” last week. The Rio Grande Guardian wrote an article** about it.
The recent spate of DNA exonerations, usually in death penalty cases, has understandably increased interest in the previously widely disbelieved phenomenon of false confessions. The Innocence Project reports that fully one quarter of wrongful convictions involve false confessions:
False confessions and incriminating statements lead to wrongful convictions in 25 percent of cases. More than 350 jurisdictions now record interrogations.
False confessions are another leading cause of wrongful convictions. Twenty-five percent of cases involve a false confession or incriminating statement made by the defendant.
Of those cases, 35 percent were 18 or under and/or developmentally disabled. The Innocence Project encourages police departments to electronically record all custodial interrogations in their entirety in order to prevent coercion and to provide an accurate record of the proceedings.
More than 350 jurisdictions have voluntarily adopted policies to record interrogations. State supreme courts have taken action in Alaska, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia require the taping of interrogations in homicide cases.
From the Rio Grande Guardian article:
Professor Ray Bull, from the University of Leicester, spoke on what really happens in police interviews with suspects. He helped to develop reforms in the United Kingdom. That country responded to problems within the criminal justice system and changed the way interrogations were conducted. Tape recording of all interviews with suspects is now mandatory.
“It’s a win-win situation,” said Meissner, who reported that in areas where interrogations are tape recorded, everyone is happy. Judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and police who are often accused of using force, all can rely on the tape instead of someone’s word. There are fewer expert fees and court costs involved when interrogations are taped, he added.
So, the UK has it right. At least when it comes to capital cases in the United States, we need to go to an absolute rule: Eligibility for the Death Penalty Requires a Videotaped Confession.
We would need rules and jury instructions as well regarding the circumstances surrounding any ‘confessions’.
I assume this would satisfy folks like Jeffrey Deustch, who has been polite enough to engage me and other readers of the blog in a death penalty debate recently.
People who are less concerned with the ‘accuracy rate’ when it comes to the ultimate punishment will remain unconvincible. But in the meantime, anyone else want to add Texas to that Innocence Project list?
[** Given the url, which ends with “/features_story.asp?story_no=1” I fear this link may go dead. If so, maybe you can use the search feature in the future to look for the story.]