Video Recording Suspect Interviews: Recently the Miami-Dade Police Department announced a new policy of video recording all suspect interviews. Previously the federal government had announced a similar policy for federal law enforcement which went into effect on July 11th. While neither Tampa PD nor the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department have a similar policy as of yet, it is likely that they will move in this direction sooner rather than later.
Many criminal cases where the police did not record the suspect interview involve a “cop-said-accused-said” dispute, where the police report shows a post-Miranda statement that the defendant disputes. Requiring recording of all suspect interviews can certainly clear up what actually was said, and by whom. But how will this requirement play out once it’s in place?
Does this mean (alleged) statements not on video are automatically excluded from trial?
No. The U.S. Supreme Court held in Arizona v. Youngblood that “unless a criminal defendant can show bad faith on the part of the police, failure to preserve potentially useful evidence does not constitute a denial of due process of law.” So if the police fail to follow a department policy to preserve a statement to officers on video, the officers can still testify about the statement as long as the failure to video it was not done in bad faith. This means that the failure to record would have to be due to equipment failure or unavailability, not that the officer simply forgot to record it. Even if the statement is admitted the defendant is certainly free to contradict the statement and bring up the fact that protocol wasn’t followed to argue to the jury that they shouldn’t give the officer’s testimony much weight.
So does this mean videotaped confessions will be “air tight”? and prevent police misconduct?
Not necessarily. As pointed out in this article in the New York Times:
The short answer is that, according to recent research, interrogation recording may in fact be too vivid and persuasive. Even seemingly neutral recordings still require interpretation. As advertisers and Hollywood directors know well, camera angles, close-ups, lenses and dozens of other techniques shape our perception of what we see without our being aware of it.
So in other words, even though something may be videotaped, that doesn’t mean the jury won’t misconstrue it. But this issue will probably only arise in a few cases, aside from some speculative hand-wringing on network TV crime shows. In reality, creating a policy of video recording suspect interviews will likely lead to fewer false confessions and less “cop-said-accused-said” situations.