Preventing wrongful convictions based on false confessions.

Posted by Michael Zarrella | Apr 28, 2011 | 0 Comments

Confessions are the most incriminating and persuasive evidence of guilt that the state can bring against a defendant. Recent studies by Project Innocence show that in about 25% of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty to the charge. There are numerous reasons that a defendant would make a false confession during a police interrogation. The police tactics will often lead a person to give a false statement, though duress or coercion.  However, the jury does not see this, they just get to hear that the defendant said he committed the crime.  Sometimes suspects confess to avoid physical harm or because they are convinced that they will be released from custody if they admit guilt after hours of interrogation.  Others are told they will be convicted with or without a confession, and that their sentence much less if they just confess. Some suspects are told if you don't confess that the police will arrest and charge their wives or mothers of their children and that the children will be taken away.  The fact is that false confessions lead to the miscarriage of justice.  In Rhode Island police interrogations are often conducted in secrecy and they are often not recorded.  There is a new bill that just passed the Senate, which approves the establish a task force to investigate and develop policies and procedures for electronically recording custodial interrogations.  This may go a long way in preventing innocent people from being convicted of a crime that they did not commit. Furthermore, when an innocent person is convicted based on a false confession it dangers the rest of society in that police will often stop further investigation into who the true perpetrator of a crime was.  Remember when you hear about the hundreds and thousands of people accused of murder and rape and other crimes serving long sentence then being exonerated, it means the true perpetrator was still out there and no one was looking for them because no one was investigating their crime. 

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Copy of Senate Bill (2011-S0331)
2011 -- S 0331 SUBSTITUTE A
======= LC00482/SUB A =======
JANUARY SESSION, A.D. 2011 ____________
Introduced By: Senators Jabour, McCaffrey, Lynch, Metts, and Nesselbush Date Introduced: February 16, 2011 Referred To: Senate Judiciary
It is enacted by the General Assembly as follows: 1    SECTION 1. Chapter 12-7 of the General Laws entitled "Arrest" is hereby amended by 2    adding thereto the following section: 3    12-7-22. Electronic recording of custodial interrogations task force. -- (a) In order to: 4    (1) Minimize the likelihood of a wrongful conviction caused by a false confession; and 5    (2) Further improve the already high quality of criminal justice in our state, the general 6    assembly creates a taskforce to investigate and develop policies and procedures for electronically 7    recording custodial interrogations in their entirety. 8    (b) The task force shall be comprised of the following or their designees: 9    (1) Attorney general;
10    (2) Public defender; 11    (3) Superintendent of the Rhode Island state police; 12    (4) President of the Rhode Island police chiefs' association; 13    (5) Head of the municipal police training academy; 14    (6) President of the Rhode Island bar association; 15    (7) President of the Rhode Island association of criminal defense lawyers; 16    (8) Public safety commissioner of the city of Providence; 17    (9) Chief of police of a department with less than forty-five (45) sworn officers and 18    which does not currently have an established policy concerning the electronic recording of 19    custodial interrogations, to be agreed upon by the task force;
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34
(10) Chief of police of a department (other than one separately designated herein) that already has established a policy concerning the regular electronic recording of custodial interrogations to be agreed upon by the task force; and
(11) Executive director of the Rhode Island commission for human rights.
(c) The attorney general and public defender shall serve as co-chairpersons of the task force and have the authority to call for an designate the time and place of meetings. A majority of members shall constitute a quorum, but a lesser number may hold meetings. The task force shall act only on an affirmative vote of a majority of the voting. All departments and agencies of the state shall furnish such advice and information, documentary and otherwise, to said task force and its agents as is deemed necessary or desirable by the task force to facilitate the purposes of this section.
(d) The task force, in consultation with whatever experts it may deem appropriate, shall study and make recommendations concerning the establishment of a statewide law enforcement practice of electronically recording custodial interrogations in their entirety. In so doing the task force's consideration should include, but are not limited to, the following:
(1) Models from other federal and state jurisdictions; (2) Current policies, procedures, and practices of law enforcement statewide; (3) Types of crimes, investigations, and settings where custodial interrogations should be
electronically recorded; (4) Whether custodial interrogations should be electronically recorded using audio-visual
or strictly audio recording; (5) Whether custodial interrogations should be electronically recorded with or without the
knowledge of the suspect; (6) Appropriate procedures to be followed when the suspect refuses to be, or exigent
circumstances otherwise prevent, the electronic recording of the custodial interrogation; (7) How to most effectively record interrogations in view of an individual police
department's fiscal, staffing, and space constraints; (8) Appropriate policies and procedures concerning the transcription of the electronic
recordings resulting from custodial interrogation; (9) Appropriate policies and procedures concerning the long-term preservation and
storage of the electronic recordings resulting from custodial interrogation; and (10) The desirability of written policies, procedures, training, and/or additional legislation
regarding the electronic recording of custodial interrogations in their entirety statewide. (e) The task force shall submit a report on its recommendations concerning the
1    investigation and development of policies and procedures for electronically recording custodial 2    interrogations in their entirety. This report shall be presented to the governor, the chief justice of 3    the Rhode Island supreme court, the speaker of the house of representatives, the president of the 4    senate, and the chairpersons of the judiciary committees of both the house of representatives and 5    the senate no later than February 1, 2012. The task force shall terminate on the date that is 6    submits its report.
7    SECTION 2. This act shall take effect upon passage.

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