There are numerous false confession cases where innocent defendants confessed to crimes they did not commit after being threatened by interrogators with the death penalty. Such threats of harm almost always lead courts to suppress any resulting confessions from suspects as involuntary. Even though I have seen this practice numerous times in reviewing interrogations, in cases where police do not record the interrogation, they always deny even mentioning the death penalty. I have never seen a case where a police officer --in the absence of a recording -- has affirmatively said: "Yes, I told him that he was going to get the death penalty and that by confessing and accepting responsibility, he would avoid the death penalty." Never........ Until yesterday.
As many of you may know, the Illinois House voted to abolish the death penalty yesterday. The abolition bill goes to the Senate (where it has a fighting chance to pass) and then to the Governor. The debates over abolition were intense and often quite eloquent. The prospect of executing an innocent person was the argument that seemed to carry the day, especially given Illinois's record of twenty exonerations of death row inmates. During the debates, representative Jim Sacia, a former FBI Agent from Pecatonica, IL. argued that the death penalty is needed because threatening defendants with the death penalty often can make them talk to authorities to help solve crimes. "Don't take that tool from law enforcement," Sacia told his fellow legislators.
Thanks Rep. Sacia for being so honest about what really happens behind the closed doors of the interrogation. Your comments will be used to make the case that the FBI, which has long opposed recording of interrogations, is perhaps most in need of this reform. I wonder how many of your 302s (The form used to create summaries of witness interviews) actually said: "Just prior to confessing to the crime of ____, SA Sacia and SA ____ threatened the suspect with the death penalty." Here's betting that not a single one did....