A House bill requiring federal police agencies to record all suspect interrogations or forfeit the statements a suspect said during all questioning, will protect both law enforcement officials and suspects, says a Capitol Hill staffer who works for the House member who introduced the bill.
Rep. Henry Johnson (D-Ga.) introduced the proposed “Effective Law Enforcement Through Transparent Interrogations Act” (HR 6245) in the House on Sept. 29, and the bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee. However, action on the bill by the committee is not expected until the Congress reconvenes in a “lame duck” session after the November elections, according to Andy Phelan, who works for Johnson.
The bill says “a statement by an individual during a custodial interrogation that is not electronically recorded, and all statements made thereafter by such individual during such interrogation, including statements that are electronically recorded, are inadmissible against such individual in a prosecution for a federal felony.” Under that provision, all questioning of a suspect accused of a federal crime would have to be recorded, or none of the information acquired from a suspect could be used to prosecute the suspect, except in circumstances outlined in the bill.
That exception is “if the court determines an imminent threat of bodily injury or other exigent circumstance made the electronic recording of a custodial interrogation impracticable.”
Other provisions of the bill require the attorney general to provide a copy of the recording to the individual who was subject to the interrogation. In addition, the attorney general would be responsible for maintaining the recording for “all appeals, post-conviction, habeas corpus proceedings, and all other orders and judgments” until the suspect has exhausted all judicial avenues; or by “the deadline by which such individual must file such proceedings,” or once the deadline has expired; or until “the statute of limitations” of the federal felony, or any related offenses, for which an individual was subjected to an interrogation has expired.
The law enforcement community, suspects who are being questioned, and the general public, will all benefit from HR 6245, said Phelan. By recording interrogations, the law enforcement community is protected from false claims of abuse or coercion, he said, adding electronic recordings will also help the law enforcement for the recordings may contain admissions that will strengthen the prosecution’s case. Recordings can be reviewed later to observe the suspect’s responses and to detect inconsistencies, and they can be useful in training officers how to properly conduct interrogations.
In addition, suspects who might actually be innocent will benefit from the bill because the recording of custodial interrogations might help prevent wrongful convictions stemming from false confessions, Phelan said. Such a recording might provide the courts with information necessary to accurately assess whether a defendant’s statement is reliable and voluntary, he said. Fewer wrongful convictions stemming from false confessions will help increase public confidence in the judicial system, and electronic recording could also contain exculpatory statements that are favorable to the defense, he added.
Most importantly, recording helps develop the strongest evidence possible to convict the guilty and ultimately protect the public, Phelan said. Ensuring that the criminal justice system convicts the right person for a crime will keep the public safe, and the public does not benefit when an innocent person is convicted, and the guilty culprit remains on the streets to commit more crimes.
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Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) brought HR 6410 before the House on Nov. 16.