Two recent cases underscore some of the additional reasons why police officers must be required to electronically record all interrogations. First, a Mississippi appeals court rejected an appeal by convicted manslaugterer Darryl McBride who argued that his conviction could not be supported by the recollections of the officers who heard but did not record his confession. At trial, McBride testified that he told the officers that he accidentally shot a young woman at a nightclub. The lead detective, however, testified that McBride said he lost his temper and shot the woman. Jurors believed the detective and McBride was convicted. The appellate court affirmed the conviction, holding that disputes about the content of the confession were not a basis for reversal -- these were questions for the jury to address. Wrong! If the state fails to preserve the evidence of a confession, then it should either be prevented from using it, or the confession should be deemed presumptively inadmissible. At the very least, as is done in states like New Jersey, a very strong instruction should be given to juries telling them to view unrecorded confessions/interrogations with great caution, and "oral confessions" with even greater caution. Judges, as the gatekeepers of reliable evidence, also should hold pre-trial reliability hearings with regard to confession evidence before submitting such cases to the jury.
A second case suggests an even more disturbing reason for recording. In Baltimore, a detective has been suspended for allegedly raping a 16 year old girl in the privacy of an interrogation room. While such abuses are rare today, a camera will prevent the more criminally inclined police officers from engaging in such activities in the interrogation rooms. The alleged rape has prompted great outcry in Baltimore, a city whose police officers have long been accused of aggressive interrogation tactics (see David Simon's classic "Homicide"), and has led to renewed calls for recording. "With all the cameras that pepper poor black neighborhoods, it is apparent that the city officials need to raise a few more -- not in poor black neighborhoods but inside Baltimore City police stationhouses," said Rev. Heber Brown III of Young Clergy for Social Action."
Electronic recording of stationhouse interrogations provides officers with the best defense against frivolous allegations of abuse and also protects suspects from those officers who are still willing to use third degree tactics. In the wake of the Special Prosecutor's Report in Chicago on Torture, the Chicago Police Department's P.R. department was working overtime, showing off its new state of the art digital recording system, as proof that such torture could not happen again. For a brief look at the Chicago system, check out this link (for as long as it works): http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=local&id=4385344