Lawmakers want to require law enforcement to record interrogations with suspects accused of murder and sexual assault. Backers say this could help avoid wrongful convictions and add support for investigators.
Public defenders say interrogations are intense by nature, but requiring investigators to record their examinations will add more accountability, ensuring detectives don’t “cross the line.”
The bill, HB277, says the recording can be audio or audiovisual. Rep. Phil Plummer (R-Dayton) is a former Montgomery County sheriff. He required his staff to record all of their interrogations for serious crime investigations. Plummer, a co-sponsor of the bill, says in these major investigations, words matter.
“If we record this we’ve got every word captured, and one or two words can make or break a case,” says Plummer.
Rep. Thomas West (D-Canton) cited the Netflix series “When They See Us” which is about the New York’s Central Park Five case in 1989. He says the treatment of the five teenagers falsely accused of rape is an effective example of the need for accountability with interrogations.
Nicole Clum, from the Office of the Ohio Public Defender, says these recordings can become useful in the court process.
“Juries expect to see interrogations recorded, they want to know that the police weren’t being coercive, they want to hear a confession straight from the horse’s mouth," Clum says. "So this bill really benefits law enforcement, it benefits those accused of crimes and it benefits juries so they can actually see what’s happening in those interrogation rooms.”
The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association says it does not have an official stance on the bill yet, but does have concerns.
“A statement obtained by an investigator, if not recorded, becomes a matter of credibility between the accused and the investigator," says Louis Tobin, OPAA executive director. "Judging credibility is a matter for the jury and these issues should be explored at trial by the prosecution and the defense. But the legislation would presume that an unrecorded interrogation is not credible and that it is, in fact, a violation of state law.”
Tobin adds that there are several situations when recording an interrogation may not be practical or possible.