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Police Interrogations and Video Recording

videorecordingAs we approach the beginning of 2013, it’s safe to say that we live in the age of ever-evolving technology. There are Smart Phones, Smart Cars, 3D Televisions, iPads, and before the end of the year the newest technological wave will hit us just in time for holiday spending. So you would think that with all of the technology available to us as a society that members of the criminal justice system would use all of these technological advances to the benefit of not only themselves but also the accused. Unfortunately, here in New York State, not all police departments have caught up with the technological times.  One of the most egregious technological omissions in the criminal justice is that police departments in New York are NOT required by law to video or audio record police interrogations on felony arrests.

There are a number of reasons that requiring the recording of police interrogations would not only protect the accused, but also the police officers.  Let’s consider for a minute that as it stands today the common practice during police interrogations is for an officer or detective to provide Miranda warnings and then question the suspect about the alleged crime. The officer or detective then makes notes contemporaneous to that conversation but never writes down every single word of what was said in the conversation. Those notes are used to write a more formal statement or confession that the accused will be asked to sign. However, once criminal defendants meet with their attorney they often claim that not everything they said is in the alleged “confession” or that they weren’t given their Miranda warnings. Then, when down the road at a pre-trial hearing or trial that officer is asked pointed questions by an experienced criminal lawyer about omissions in his or her notes and the statement, the officer must admit that not everything that was said is written down or recorded in any way. Should this outdated practice be allowed to continue when we know that false confessions have been proven to occur by DNA exonerations over the past 20 years? There is no way that a person’s memory and contemporaneous notes can accurately complete a record of what was said in a way that can match a video or audio recording.

The benefits to making it mandatory to electronically record felony police interrogations substantially outweigh any argument that the “scribble and write” method should still be used. One example of how recording these interrogations benefits both the police and the accused is that recording these interrogations protects the officers and detectives against claims that Miranda warnings were not properly given or given at all and it protects the accused in that it ensures that the Miranda warnings are given because a District Attorney and Judge will see the video. Another benefit is how mandating these recordings saves the time and cost of requiring courts to hear/review contested testimony of what occurred during the interrogation and thus needing to make credibility determinations that they would NOT have to make if uncontestable video or audio recordings were available.

As of 2002 only two states – Alaska and Minnesota – required electronic recording of custodial interviews. Ten years later, in 2012 sixteen (16) states and the District of Columbia now require these recordings. A number of states – including New York – have bills pending requiring these recordings. But until the New York bill passes defendants charged with felonies in New York still are subject to outdated tactics and potentially inaccurate statements being taken from them. It still remains a game of he said, she said.  New York’s current law in this area reinforces how imperative it is to have representation familiar with police interrogation tactics if you are arrested. The criminal attorneys at Collins, McDonald and Gann are all former prosecutors and are thoroughly familiar with the manner in which police interrogate suspects. When it’s your word vs. the police, be sure to have experienced counsel on your side.  Feel free to contact us, 24/7, and 365 days a year.

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