It’s Time to Mandate Recorded Interrogations in Florida

The Black Lives Matter movement has shed light on police misconduct throughout America. As a society, we are more aware of the reality that police officers do not always uphold the law when conducting their duties to protect and serve their communities. Due to heightened skepticism of law enforcement procedures, many police departments have adopted the use of body cameras that record officers’ interactions with suspected perpetrators of crime.

Body cameras capture unbiased footage of police incidents, which benefits suspects and police officers alike. Isn’t it time we applied this same rhetoric to police interrogations?

Most Police Interrogations Go Unrecorded

Just nine years ago, a man was released from a South Florida prison after spending over a quarter of a century behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. Anthony Caravella’s case highlights false confessions as a key issue that still plagues criminal proceedings.

At fifteen, Caravella falsely confessed to raping a significantly older woman. He had an IQ of 67 and had undergone five days of rough interrogations during which police badgered him until he confessed. When the jury was presented with the evidence in 1983, they heard a recording of Caravella’s confession, but they did not see what led up to it.

At the start of the interrogation, the teen had claimed he was innocent and described the men he witnessed committing the crime to his interrogators; however, police had not recorded that part. They recorded what was convenient for them to record — the suspect’s final, coerced confession. It wasn’t until 2009 that DNA evidence freed him.

While the public would hope that such incidents are few and far between, they happen much more frequently than we can imagine, particularly in Florida where recording interrogations is something a few police departments do voluntarily. Florida holds a poor reputation for having the highest rate of overturned death penalty convictions in the United States. Nearly 30% of the over 300 cases in which innocents have been exonerated due to post-DNA testing can be attributed to false confessions.

What are We Doing to Prevent False Confessions?

A year after Caravella was freed, Chief Justice Charles T. Canady launched the Innocence Commission to combat the issue of people going to prison for crimes they didn’t commit. The commission, made up of judges, politicians, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and others sought to make recording interrogations a standard procedure. The commission was tasked with examining the state’s wrongful convictions and recommending policies to reduce the chances of future wrongful conditions. It expired in 2012.

While twenty-three states already make it a requirement to record police interrogations, police departments that do so in Florida do so because they choose to do so. Bills (such as SB 1220) have attempted to make recording interrogations mandatory, but they have consistently failed.

Benefits of Recorded Interrogations

Like body cameras, recorded interrogations provide the jury with an objective look into what transpired between the defendant and police while the defendant was in police custody. Recording interrogations would reduce or eliminate the number of forced confessions that take place, thus not only saving innocent people from becoming entangled in a harsh criminal justice system but also saving taxpayers millions of dollars. It would also help keep the focus of the investigation on the actual perpetrators of the crime to reduce the odds that they will continue to roam free.

Recording interrogations also benefits police officers, many who are in favor of them. Police officers claim that recording allows them to focus on the suspect rather than taking copious notes during an interrogation. They can also review the tapes later, which may reveal important details. Recording interrogations reduces the number of allegations of police misconduct. When these allegations do arise, they are easy to refute.

At The Umansky Law Firm, we believe that interrogations should always be recorded to provide an objective look into police procedures. We are a team of passionate defense lawyers in Orlando who have over 100 years of combined experience practicing criminal law. We are former prosecutors who can provide a unique advantage to your criminal case. Call 407-228-3838 or reach out to our firm online to schedule a free case review.