By SARA QAMAR
Capital News Service
LANSING — A new House bill would require audiovisual recording of major felony interrogations by law enforcement officials.
Under the proposal, juries would be notified of the requirement if police fail to comply and could consider the absence of a recording when evaluating evidence.
Videotaping should be encouraged for all law enforcement agencies and funding for equipment should be provided, said Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan President Ron Schafer.
But Schafer, who is the Ionia County prosecutor, said he opposes any sanctions for violations.
“You’re calling in the credibility of the officer, but you wouldn’t do that to the jailhouse snitch,” he said.
Because of some past methods used to extract confessions, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, said recorded interrogations should be a part of Michigan’s judicial process.
An audiovisual recording would encourage law enforcement officials to follow all proper procedures, she said.
“Having a permanent recording also protects law enforcement officers from false confessions. More and more we’re finding out through DNA that we have people incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit,” Tlaib said.
The main sponsor, Tlaib said Michigan’s lack of a statewide public defense system makes videorecording essential.
“In essence we have to get with the times in Michigan. We have to use technology to make our judicial process fair and just. It’s extremely important that we get with this trend,” Tlaib said.
Schafer said, other states, including Illinois, have variations of the law in place. Michigan does not mandate sound or visual recording or transcripts of interrogations, Shafer said.
The bill has been in development since 2006, when the State Bar of Michigan created a task force of prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement officials, judges and others.
The task force oversaw three pilot programs in Washtenaw, Eaton and Jackson counties which worked out the kinks of a videotaping policy before the legislation was drafted.
The task force was co-chaired by Nancy Diehl, a former assistant prosecutor in Wayne County for 28 years.
“We’ve ended up with convictions being overturned. We want to make sure interrogations are done correctly. When done correctly, it’s the best evidence that the prosecution can have,” she said.
She cited a Detroit rape-murder case where a wrongful conviction was overturned on appeal. The defendant, Eddie Joe Lloyd, also won a civil suit requiring Detroit police to tape all interrogations of homicide suspects.
Diehl estimated the expense to outfit one interrogation room at $2,500 or less. She said many law enforcement agencies have already bought the equipment on their own.
“We’re hoping the cost won’t be overly burdensome,” she said.
Tlaib said the requirement would eliminate many high costs in the judicial process by reducing wrongful convictions and subsequent appeals.
Co-sponsors include Reps. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing; Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor; Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing; and David Nathan, D-Detroit.
The bill is pending in the House Judiciary Committee.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.
By SARA QAMAR