Follow by Email

Monday, February 7, 2011

A proposal for change

A proposal for change
What we propose is that we begin by saying that all interrogations of children who are suspects should be videotaped. In no other way can their rights be protected. In no other way can jurors possibly know whether it was a real confession of a guilty party, or someone tricked by double-talk, or someone promised he could go home if he only says the right thing, or someone badgered until he gave in, or someone being lied about.

The same should be true for children being questioned about major crimes. How can jurors possibly know if the child is giving his own thoughts, or the thoughts pounded into him by zealous investigators having the power of carrot, stick, and endless repetition, if the real facts are forever kept secret?

If we really wanted to be fair, we would extend the same right to interrogations of adult suspects. But, it is questionable whether our system can stand that much fairness at once. Let it be introduced a little at a time.

Police can audiotape and videotape interrogations whenever they want. and they can refuse to do it whenever they want. Courts give them full authority to decide whether a jury will get the whole story, or a carefully edited tiny slice of the story. This must end. If police departments do not do it on their own, then courts or legislatures should provide that when police take a suspect down to the station for interrogation, a complete video or at least audio record of that interrogation shall be made.

Of course, if such a rule were to be made, some police would stop questioning most suspects at the police station to avoid the rule, because the last thing they would want is people seeing how they really handle the people who come into their possession. The same thing happened after the 1962 United States Supreme Court ruling in Mapp v. Ohio. The Supreme Court did not change the definition of which police searches were legal and which were illegal; they simply provided a penalty for an illegal search: suppression of the fruits of the search from evidence. Suddenly, around the country the air was filled with the complaints of police and prosecutors that they now had to "comply" with the Mapp decision, even though that decision did not make illegal any police practices. The practices were already illegal.

And, unfortunately, in the year following the Mapp decision there was a 600% jump in police reports saying that suspects had thrown down or abandoned property, which would prevent the Mapp rule from applying. Was this the suspects changing their behavior, or police inventing new tactics to fit new circumstances?

No matter how many good, honest, hardworking police there are, abuses are happening, and not always intentionally. Our whole governmental system is based on checks and balances, and it should be the same for our criminal justice system. To have reliable police work, we need a check on the police. The only effective check is videotaping of interrogations. Shame on every police department that has failed to make use of this tool of the truth, and shame on every court and legislature that has failed
Author unknown

No comments:

Post a Comment