"How to reduce coerced confessions and wrongful convictions," is an editorial published in today's Los Angeles Times.
Two North Carolina half brothers were released from prison last month after serving three decades for a rape and murder they did not commit but for which they had been convicted based on coerced confessions. The exoneration finally came after new testing of DNA evidence matched neither Henry McCollum, 50, nor Leon Brown, 46, but instead implicated a third man convicted of a similar crime committed around the same time in the same neighborhood.
It's impossible to say for certain, but had the state of North Carolina required its investigators back then, as it does now, to record interrogations of serious felony suspects in custody, it's likely that this atrocious miscarriage of justice would not have happened. The men, who have diminished intellectual capabilities, signed confessions after hours of intense questioning and a promise that they could go home. Perhaps the police would not have behaved that way if a camera had been running, or if they did, it would have been brought to light during the trial.
Unfortunately, that case is not unique. The Innocence Project says that over 15 years, 64 of 102 erroneous murder convictions nationwide were based on false confessions. About 22% of all wrongful convictions involved coerced or otherwise improperly obtained confessions.
There's a simple step that can help address this: Require police to videotape interrogations of suspects in serious felony cases. More than 40 California cities or agencies already do this, including San Diego and San Francisco.
Earlier coverage of the North Carolina exonerations begins at the link. Related posts are in the custodial interrogation and false confession category index.