In my post discussing the demise of Miranda, I approvingly quoted the author’s mention of videotaping confessions as a possible solution. Scott writes today and warns us not to get too invested in videotaped confessions and why they may not be the answer. He is correct in that videotaped confessions are not very helpful and may end up providing the final nail in the coffin of a factually innocent defendant who goes to trial.
Scott’s post seems to focus only on confessions, as opposed to videotaping the entire interrogation(s). That’s the mistake. If we tape the entire interrogation instead, though, these reservations may not exist. Here‘s a report from The Justice Project which argues that entire interrogations must be videotaped. After all, it is the interrogation that Miranda seeks to safeguard. So why should its “replacement” focus only on the confession?
It is the interrogation that needs to be videotaped to provide a complete picture of the voluntariness of a confession. Of what use is a confession only? That is principally the same as a written statement. By that point, the defendant has been broken down and tricked, cajoled or threatened into confessing. If he seems resigned on videotape while delivering his confession, it may be a product either of his guilt overwhelming him or of fatigue and submission.
There is, of course, the initial hurdle of resistance from law enforcement to overcome, but as with lineup and ID procedures, the wall is slowly starting to crumble. As of April, 2006, there were 450 law enforcement departments nationwide that required videotaping of interrogations. From Northwestern Law, here [pdf] is a list of agencies in the country today employing some form of videotaping and here [pdf] is a fantastic report (that I intend to read in-depth) from 2004 chronicling police experiences with videotaping interrogations. The New York County Lawyers’ Association has published this report [pdf] calling for interrogations to be videotaped. It analyzes statutes and regulations in various states.
In Connecticut, a pilot program was approved last year for certain jurisdictions. I haven’t heard anything about it or how it is working. Anyone who knows want to chime in? Did any jurisdictions actually sign up for the pilot program? [Previous coverage here and here.]
Once concern from law enforcement is that it may be difficult to videotape interrogations in all circumstances. I don’t think that’s true. If a suspect is arrested in a remote area, cops have two options: (1) use the in-car video system or (2) wait till you get to a police station. What am I missing here?
If the entirety of an interrogation is recorded – videotaped – then it certainly would give the viewer an accurate picture of the voluntariness of an eventual confession.
The only obvious problem that I can see is defining when such a recording must commence. Is “custody” too late in the game? What if there is an audio recording of initial contact and then video recording of an interrogation? I guess the answer will depend on what studies show to be first time that coercive tactics are used. I haven’t done enough research to provide a reasonable answer, but I think it is one that can be answered.
Videotaped interrogations may not be a panacea, but I think they will be a hell of a lot better than what we have now.