The police interrogation film festival

It’s only taken a decade or two for NY’s Finest to catch up to the civilized world, but according to the Daily News, a couple of NYPD precincts have started videotaping interrogations. (NYPD Now Videotaping Suspects as Detectives Question Them, Despite Reluctance 2/27/11).

Videotaped interrogations aren’t to be confused with the canned confessions currently offered at suppression hearings where the defendant, after 19 sleepless hours in the precinct, has already “agreed” to make a statement to the DA. The taped interrogations are supposed to include everything, including all that “small talk” that detectives claim to engage in before your client so mysteriously decides to incriminate himself.

Many other jurisdictions in the U.S. and abroad have required police interrogations to be videotaped for decades. Michael Palladino, the head of the NYPD Detectives Union, is nevertheless opposed to bringing NYC up to speed, saying, “I think once a jury sees what goes on in an interrogation – the tricks of the trade that are legal, such as trickery and deceit – there will be sympathy for criminals. Criminals will wind up on the streets instead of behind bars.”

We heard him say the same thing at a conference a couple of years ago. Another NYPD representative added that the complex technology of videotaping a 2-person conversation was beyond their capacity. And besides, given the messy closets at the typical police precinct, it would be impossible to find the videotape afterwards.
We’re not making this up.

Somebody finally pointed out that, although we still speak of “videotaping” the way we talk about “dialing” a telephone, actual “videotapes” became obsolete sometime during the Dinkins administration and that if cops are in the habit of losing evidence, they should at least be cool enough not to say so.

As Detective Palladino so correctly said, U.S. courts see nothing wrong with using trickery and deceit to extract a confession. This numbness isn’t shared by other countries such as Great Britain where police are forbidden to lie to suspects.

Hopefully, the gumshoe is right that juries will be horrified when they see the kind of lying and manipulation that goes on. Not because they’re sympathetic to criminals, but because they’ll understand that these tactics could make an innocent person confess.

With recorded interrogations, maybe it’s innocent people who will wind up free in the streets instead of behind bars.

About Appellate Squawk

A satirical blog for criminal defense lawyers and their friends who won't give up without a squawk.
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