April 24, 2009
Videotaping interrogations

One of Sen. Rodney Ellis' many criminal justice reform bills has passed the Senate.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, won Senate approval of a measure intended to encourage the recording of police interrogations. Ellis said his Senate Bill 116 arose out of concern that convicts freed due to recovered DNA evidence have said they were initially forced into confessions.

The approved measure provides that, when practical, a custodial interrogation should be recorded, in its entirety, using audio-visual equipment or audio equipment. It requires the Texas Department of Public Safety to adopt rules for providing funds or electronic recording equipment to law enforcement agencies.

Ellis called the change, headed to the House, "a very modest step in the right direction."

Senators acted after Ellis fielded questions from Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who expressed concern that the failure of a police officer to record an interview might be exploited by defense attorneys.

"I don't want this to be a big loophole that you could drive a truck through to get people off" from criminal charges, Patrick said. He added that he supports Ellis's intent.

Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, aired similar concerns.

I guess I'm more concerned about the entirely real possibility of an innocent person being convicted on a coerced confession. Like Richard Danziger, some of whose jurors wrote an op-ed this past Sunday regretting their actions, which they wouldn't have done had they had the better information that a videotaped interrogation would have provided. How much do Sens. Patrick and Huffman, the two No votes against SB116, care about situations like that?

Grits notes just how off point Patrick's questions were. This is all about Republican primary politics, where it's better to convict a bunch of innocent people than to take any risk that you might not convict a guilty person. The House companion bill is somewhat stronger than what SB116 wound up being, so perhaps that step forward Sen. Ellis referred to can be a little bigger. Floor Pass has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 24, 2009 to Crime and Punishment
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