"Bill Would Require Police to Record Interrogations," is the Texas Tribune report by Maurice Chammah.
There are moments of the two-day police interrogation that led to Christopher Ochoa’s wrongful conviction — which resulted in his spending 12 years in prison before a 2002 exoneration — that will never be known. Not all of the interrogation that preceded Ochoa's false confession to the murder of Pizza Hut employee Nancy DePriest in Austin — and implication of his roommate, Richard Danziger — was recorded.
Some advocates argue that such false confessions could be prevented if police interrogations were recorded. SB 87 by state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, would police require police to record the questioning of suspects in cases involving murder, kidnapping, human trafficking and some sex crimes.
“Recording an interrogation is the most accurate means of preserving what happened in an interrogation room and what a suspect actually said,” Ellis said in an email.
Texas law already requires in most cases that investigators tape the confession itself. But in the wake of a handful of exonerations involving false confessions, defense attorneys and other advocates worry that without a recording of the entire interrogation, they may never know how a false confession occurred. Nineteen other states and the District of Columbia already require such recordings.
While some prosecutors and police support the idea, others worry that it could be used to unfairly target law enforcement officers and that it would make it harder to convince a jury that a confession was valid in the absence of a recording. The bill includes a variety of exceptions to the rule, allowing for spontaneously-given confessions and faulty equipment, and advocates hope those will make police officers comfortable that the recording requirement would not undermine their work.
Requiring recorded interrogations was a suggestion of the 2010 Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions, which made policy recommendations based on its review of overturned convictions. Among the panel's other suggestions was reforming eyewitness sidentification practices, and lawmakers approved legislation that aligned with that recommendation in 2011.
More on SB 87, including the text, is at the link. The 83rd Texas Legislature convenes January 8th for its 140-day session. The Texas Legislature Online website is a model of open, accessible information. It allows individuals to track bills, committee meetings, and create alerts. The Legislative Reference Library, located on the 2nd Floor of the Texas Capitol, also has a helpful website.
Related posts are in the custodial interrogation, false confessions, state legislation, and Texas Legislature category indexes. More on the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions and its 2010 report, at the links.
Coverage of the 2011 Texas legislative session and its work on the Cole Panel recommendations is also available.