Videotaping of criminal interrogations urged to reduce false confessions in Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Justice Commission, formed two years ago by the Oklahoma Bar Association, is recommending interviews with suspects of serious and violent crimes be videotaped.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: March 2, 2013
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State lawmakers should pass legislation requiring law enforcement agencies to videotape all interrogations with suspects of violent and serious crimes, according to a report released Friday by a group that spent two years reviewing wrongful convictions in Oklahoma.

“We were surprised to find that 27 percent of the 301 wrongful convictions we studied involved false confessions that were made by suspects during investigation of the crimes,” said former state Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who served as chairman of the Oklahoma Justice Commission. “Those were the kinds of things we've attempted to redress — instances where a common factor existed and practical ways to prevent future error.”

Edmondson said the commission, made up of law enforcement officers, lawmakers, victims' advocates and defense attorneys, hopes that law enforcement agencies will voluntarily start videotaping interrogations involving suspects of violent crimes.

But to ensure the practice is followed, the commission is urging lawmakers to require law enforcement agencies to videotape the entire interrogation. The commission also recommends the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training develop training for law enforcement agencies.

“This practice protects law enforcement by preventing allegations of coercion and preserving the subtle details of a suspect's behavior for investigative and prosecutorial purposes,” said Edmondson, a former legislator and prosecutor. “The commission recognizes this practice may not always be feasible, but we believe it should be standard practice when possible.

“If the wrong guy is in prison, that means the guy who really did it is out on the street and nobody feels more strongly about that than the people who wear badges and enforce the law,” he said. “They want the right guy in prison.”

‘It adds ... credibility'

Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty said Oklahoma City and most of the large police departments in the state already videotape interrogations of suspects in violent crime.

“It adds a lot of credibility to the investigation, some accountability when it goes to court,” said Citty, who served on the commission. “Law enforcement has a true interest in trying to make cases the best they can for the purpose of prosecution and honest conviction.”

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