Is videotaping interrogations a better solution?

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.

A google search for videotaped interrogations provides a wealth of information: some as far back as 2002 from Chicago and some more recently from California.

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.

Creative Commons License photo credit: werewegian

11 thoughts on “Is videotaping interrogations a better solution?

  1. Woman in Black

    I am in favor of taping EVERYTHING. In the child sex case I am working on, sheriff’s dept. has facilities to video/audio at all times; they don’t video/audio anything except DUIs. Because, after all, DUIs are SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than child accusing someone of sex assault, murder interrogations, etc.

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  2. TexPD4Parity

    While I don’t know it would solve all the problems, I think video-recording of interrogations would answer a lot of questions. How often do we hear “the cops said I’d get to go home if I said just said I did it…” While adults arguable ought to know better, juvies might be more prone to fessing up to something they didn’t do just because they believe they’ll really go home.

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  3. Gideon Post author

    Well, I certainly did try. Don’t know what I got wrong.

    Edit: I edited it a bit. Perhaps that’s more accurate?

    TexPD: That’s something that can be avoided only if the videotaping occurs from the outset. If the starting point is too late, then some of that coercion may occur prior to it. Certainly, if all contact is videotaped, it probably would eliminate false promises like that.

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  4. SHG

    If videotaped statements become the rule, there are a few things we can bank on. First, the cops will be on their best behavior on camera. Second, it’s their house and their rules, and they will set it up to serve their purposes. Third, it will never show everything that matters. Fourth, it will be nearly impossible to overcome.

    I think this pretty well sums it up. The psychological manipulation will happen well before any video is taken, and the video will show the statement without any of the prior manipulation that gave rise to the statement.

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  5. Gideon Post author

    Oh I agree. Limited videotaping is absolutely useless and potentially quite harmful. But what if “we” mandate that the entire interrogation should be videotaped?

    The obvious hurdle with that, as I mention, is how to define that start point. Do you start videotaping when a suspect is “in custody”? We all know how pointless that term is when it comes to interrogations and actually getting incriminating information. So something before that? Initial contact? A warning to not talk in a location where the contact cannot be recorded?

    That’s the part that I’m least clear on, but if we put our heads together, I’m sure we can come up with a workable starting point that would eliminate – or reduce greatly – any concerns that there was prior inappropriate/coercive contact.

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  6. Reginald Gleason

    First, every one from the original author to everyone who posted, obviously has never had to physically deal with the trama of a real life blood and guts felony, where the officer on the scene first deals with the victim, then usually the victims’ relative and friends…meaning that no matter how professional, mature or experienced an officer is, the officer cannot divorce him/her self from being a human being. Do you get my drift here?

    You couch potato “expects” love to pontificate on how an officer should behave, but your degree of experience has been TV or cinema, or perhaps esoteric extrapolations in text books.

    What am I getting at? Police officers are human beings. That means we are not automotans that function the clinical vaccum offered in the luxury of your myopic diatribes.

    I will do whatever is legally and morally necessary to obtain a confession, if I truly believe the person I am interogating is guilty. Listen to me, you pious dorks…people will lie to save their asses. The Supeme Court has repeatedly ruled that I can lie or decieve a suspect to obtain a confession, as long as I do not cause the suspect physical or deliberate psychological injury.

    If you video tape each and every word, nuance and action in police interogations, conviction rates (of the truly guilty) will plummet. But perhaps that is your true goal, all along…..why do I waste my breath?

    Cops (translate – people who put pants on the same way you do) DO NOT (read my lips) do not want to convict the innocent of crimes they have not committed. period. get that? now grow up.

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  7. shg

    Hi Reg, couch potato dork here. I realize that nobody knows nothing except cops, and that we’re all ruining the world because we just don’t leave it up to cops to make all the decisions about right and wrong, guilty and innocent. Cops know it. We know nothing. If a cop says so, then it’s so. We’re just making the world miserable for all those innocent victims by protecting all those violent criminals that cops are trying to put away, doing whatever they have to do as long as they’ve decided that the mutt deserves to go.

    See, I’ve got it. I feel so grown up now.

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  8. sfolaw

    Reginald

    You are correct police officers are human beings. They have the same flaws as we all do. Some are good and some are bad. It is the bad cops that can do a tremendous amount of harm.


    I will do whatever is legally and morally necessary to obtain a confession, if I truly believe the person I am interogating is guilty.

    conviction of a truly guilty person is not in question here. How that conviction is obtained is. How you interpret what is legally and morally necessary may not actually be legal nor moral. A major case in point would be the thought processes of the former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and his reinterpretation of the use of torture and what torture is.

    Gonzalez for whatever reason may truly feel that his interpretation is legal and moral. But, it is not.


    First, every one from the original author to everyone who posted, obviously has never had to physically deal with the trama of a real life blood and guts felony, where the officer on the scene first deals with the victim, then usually the victims’ relative and friends…meaning that no matter how professional, mature or experienced an officer is, the officer cannot divorce him/her self from being a human being. Do you get my drift here?

    And that is exactly why we have laws that protect people from over zealous cops. If you are a good cop that knows what they are doing and do not depend on bending or breaking the law to be successful at your job then you should want full video taping from start to stop. That way your good work is protected from false accusations.

    Obviously, you have never worked with victims of police misconduct or their families. Police misconduct occurs all the time.

    Pious you want to talk about pious. It is myopic, obtuse, and pious to think that people’s rights should not be protected at all points of contact with law enforcement. this should include video taping. it will protect you and your case as well. It is only incompetent, pious, myopic, obtuse cops that should be worried about mandatory video taping.

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  9. Nathanael Nerode

    Reginald Gleason needs to read this essay by a police officer:

    http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-trainum24-2008oct24,0,7918545.story

    The point is that well-meaning cops can elicit false confessions. That is bad. You would probably agree that that is bad. You can detect these false confessions if you videotape the entire interrogation.

    After all, could you possibly feel worse than if you put an innocent person to death or in prison by eliciting a false confession? Do you really want that on your conscience? Being able to detect false confessions by videotaping the entire interrogation protects against police error. Including innocent police error.

    (And there is guilty police error too: around here we had the infamous State Police Troop C evidence-tampering scandal, in which dozens of innocent people were framed using false evidence by the state police. Videotaping wouldn’t help with that, obviously, but you have to realize that some police really do think that they deserve to decide who goes to prison, rather than the judges and juries who are actually supposed to)

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