Proposed Florida Bill Would Mean Recorded Felony Interrogations

In recent weeks, Total Criminal Defense has reported on the growing prison population in the United States – recent research found that more than 1% of adults are currently behind bars. And perhaps more worrisome is the number of DNA exonerations that are freeing people who have already served several years in prison. Florida, it seems, is joining those states that have chosen to address both issues.

According to the Miami Herald-Tribune, Florida’s House Bill 721 and Senate Bill 1434 address the issue of interrogation recording. If successful, the bills will call for the recording of all police interrogations of felony suspects.

Currently, Florida law reportedly does not require police officers to record the interrogations of those suspected of felonies. But elsewhere in the country, this has been cited as a serious problem.

In 2002, sources indicate that the Chicago Police Department was struggling with complaints of police brutality and torture during the interrogations of suspects. Senator Barack Obama introduced a bill that would require video- or audio-taping of all homicide suspects interrogated in police custody.

Initially, the bill apparently met with opposition from all fronts – police, prosecutors, senators and the governor. Criminal defense attorneys, it seems, were on board all along. But, after the exoneration and release of 13 men on Death Row who had falsely confessed to homicide because of police torture tactics, many in Illinois evidently changed their minds.

The New York Times reports that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich signed the bill into law in 2003, after passing the Senate with a 58-0 vote. Thanks to Obama’s persuasion, Illinois became the first state to adopt such legislation. Reports indicate that since then, more than 5,000 jurisdictions in more than 11 states have adopted similar laws.

Supporters of the legislation proposed in Florida have reportedly pointed to statistics on false confessions and wrongful convictions to highlight the need for similar legislation in the Sunshine State: 26% of those exonerated by DNA falsely confess to their crimes and 81% of false confessions involve murder charges.

This means that innocent people are behind bars for crimes they never committed and murderers are freely roaming the streets without consequence.

Even the FBI has allegedly recommended recording interrogations, citing such benefits as increased public confidence and strengthened officer credibility for jurisdictions that do. Prosecutors in jurisdictions with mandatory recording reportedly view the practice as positive, and nowhere has the legislation been repealed.

Some have cited the legislation’s potential to save taxpayers’ money and judges’ and police officers’ time in court prosecuting the wrong people. Others point to the importance of maintaining the integrity of the criminal justice system and reducing complaints of improper police behavior as reasons to move forward with the bills.

Studies have shown that under the right conditions, people are susceptible to confessing falsely for crimes, which can lead to a chain of waste within the judicial system. Hopefully, legislation like that proposed in Florida will eliminate some of the flaws in criminal investigations.