Wednesday, December 3, 2008

How Do We Prevent False Confessions?

This is a continuation of yesterday's post on false confessions.

There are numerous techniques police can use while interrogating suspects:
• Utilize the physical environment – usually small but brightly lit
• Ask leading questions
• Provide information about the crime scene
• Adapt a confrontational style / get in the suspect’s face
• Conduct extremely long interviews that last for hours or even days
• Deceive the suspect with false suggestions and/or information, like stories of non-existent physical evidence that links them to the crime
• Tell the suspect if they pass a polygraph they can go home, then lie about the polygraph’s results
• And so it goes...

There are several remedies for false confessions that should be implemented immediately by state law:
• Videotape all interrogations, from the reading of rights to the end, with the tape running continuously
• Set reasonable time limits for interrogations
• Never, ever allow minors and people with reduced mental capacity to be questioned without a parent, guardian, or legal representative present
• Make it illegal for law enforcement to lie to suspects

Some of these are so obvious, I can’t believe they require laws to change them. Why in the world do we allow our children to be taken into some back room and interrogated by the police without our presence? That one’s a no-brainer for me. We need to remember that children are children, regardless of the severity of the crime they’re being questioned about.

In Florida, it’s noteworthy that the Broward County Police Department now records interrogations. We don’t know how many others do so. That’s why the Innocence Project of Florida this year initiated a Public Records Request to all law enforcement agencies in the state, asking for their policies on eyewitness identification and the recording of interrogations. Reviewing the responses should tell us how far we have to go to enact responsible change in these areas.

According to the Innocence Project:

The Supreme Courts of Alaska and Minnesota have declared that, under their state constitutions, defendants are entitled as a matter of due process to have their custodial interrogations recorded. In 2003, Illinois became the first state to require by law that all police interrogations of suspects in homicide cases must be recorded.

Over 500 jurisdictions nationwide, including the states of Alaska, Minnesota and Illinois, regularly record police interrogations. A 2004 study conducted by Illinois officials of 200 locations that implemented this reform found that police departments overwhelmingly embrace the measure as good law enforcement whose time has come.

We can only hope that more states, including Florida, follow suit. Sooner rather than later would be good, too.

*Some of the information in this post was taken from “The False Confessions in the Central Park Jogger Case” written by Elaine Cassel and published on December 17, 2002, at Findlaw.

For more information about false confessions, check out our list of recommended books in the Resource section of our Web site.

Visit IPF's Website here; sign up to volunteer here; contribute to our work here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Some of these [remedies for false confessions] are so obvious, I can't believe they require laws to change them.

You and me both!

In this as in so many areas, Florida sometimes seems to be leading the way... backwards.