New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly announced last week that the department will begin a policy of videotaping custodial interrogations in murder, serious sex crimes, and felony assault cases. This comes after the New York State Legislature failed to pass legislation requiring videotaping statewide, as recommended by a task force created by Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the Court of New York. The New York Times praised the initiative in an editorial yesterday (here).
Commissioner Kelly noted a benefit that is becoming a factor for professionals in the criminal justice system, namely, that videotaping interrogations can “enhance public confidence in the criminal justice system by increasing transparency as to what was said and done.”
In about 25 percent of DNA proven wrongful convictions, an innocent person falsely confessed, made self-incriminating statements, or pleaded guilty to a crime he or she didn’t commit. The Innocence Project has long recommended videotaping to reduce false confessions.
The Commissioner noted that videotaping is a benefit for both the defense and the prosecution. A 2004 report, Police Experiences with Recording Custodial Interrogations (here), by Thomas P Sullivan of Northwestern University School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, supports this. It revealed the experience of 238 law enforcement agencies in thirty-eight states that were early in adopting the policy. Police officers overwhelmingly were enthusiastic about videotaping and presumably would not go back to the older method.
Among the benefits for police noted in the Sullivan report: Videotaping enables the detective to concentrate on the interview instead of note-taking; reduces frivolous lawsuits and claims of interrogation abuse; reduces detective time required in the courtroom; provides the opportunity to review important interview details; and enables better training opportunities.
Commissioner Kelly should be commended for being proactive on this reform without waiting for the legislature to require it.
The Innocence Project reports (here) that “Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation requiring the recording of custodial interrogations. State supreme courts have taken action in Alaska, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire and New Jersey. Approximately 840 jurisdictions have voluntarily adopted recording policies.”