LQ Task Force Eyes Confessions


    The State Bar of Michigan is working to stop the wrongful convictions of innocent people due to false confessions with the formation of a Custodial Interrogation Recording Task Force.

    The task force, which will meet for the first time in June, is comprised of state bar members in criminal defense and prosecution as well as members of the judicial and law enforcement community. The members will work to develop and promote legislative, court rule and funding changes to advance the use of audio and video electronic recording of custodial interrogations.

    “The central concern is wrongful incarcerations that are based on false confessions,” said Valerie Newman, co-chair of the task force and member of the State Appellate Defender’s Office. “We have had many, many discussions about the variety of issues that arise around people confessing to crimes.”

    One of the issues, Newman pointed out, is that confessions are usually believed, and if police believe a false or coerced confession, then time is lost in an investigation. It also hurts the defendant if the case goes to trial.

    “A confession is obviously a very powerful thing in front of a jury,” Newman said.

    Newman said she has heard anecdotally that using a video or audio recording of the custodial interrogation has been helpful to law enforcement agencies.

    “When you’re on tape, you can see that the police officers followed all the constitutional procedures that they have,” she said.

    Newman said while some officers are scrupulous in following the constitution, there are others who may believe any means is acceptable if they have someone in custody they think is guilty.

    “Then it becomes one person’s word against the other’s,” she said.

    To help make the system more reliable, Newman said the task force wants input from the entire judicial and law enforcement community.

    “We would like to hear from anyone who has thoughts about the subject,” she said.

    Newman said between the many law enforcement entities in Michigan, the task force wants to survey the state and find out where they stand, coordinate the data, and then go from there.

    The task force is co-chaired by Nancy Diehl of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and also has involvement with The Cooley Innocence Project at ThomasM.CooleyLawSchool. The Innocence Project, according to the Cooley Web site, works to identify, provide legal assistance to and secure the release of people who are wrongly imprisoned for crimes they did not commit, while giving students hands-on experience.     LQX

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