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Does video-recording interrogations help prevent wrongful convictions?

Given that some police interrogations have led to false confessions and wrongful convictions in the past, it probably comes as no surprise that several New York lawmakers are now attempting to make the interrogation process more transparent by requiring law enforcement officers to video-record all custodial interrogations involving major offenses.

Currently, New York State has no law requiring law enforcement officers to create videos of interrogations. In fact, while many confessions are recorded, the interrogations before them often are not -- meaning jurors may never know what happened in the interrogation room leading up to the confessions.

Proponents of the new pieces of legislation hope that fewer false confessions will occur if the entire process is recorded, or, at the very least, allow us to see what happened during the interrogations that may have led to the confession.

What is being proposed?

There have actually been several bills proposed this year in New York that deal with video-recording interrogations, including NY Assembly Bill 3964, NY Senate Bill 4791 and NY Senate bill 4826, just to name a few.

While there are differences between these bills, they all have one common theme: interrogations involving major offenses (violent felonies) need to be video-recorded.

However, some of the bills are broader than others. For instance, while one piece of legislation only discusses interrogations that take place at a detention facility, another says that it will apply to any interrogation that takes place at a "fixed location" under the control of police, and the third references any "place of detention" including the police station, holding facility and prosecutor's office, among other locations.

In addition, the consequences for violating the video-recording requirements vary greatly among the bills. For example, under NY Senate Bill 4791, any un-recorded statements made by the accused during an interrogation would automatically be presumed inadmissible in a criminal proceeding, as would any statements made following the interrogation.

Conversely, under NY Senate Bill 4826, the failure to record an interrogation is simply one factor a court may consider when determining whether or not the evidence is admissible, which is similar to the language contained in Assembly Bill 3964. However, it is important to note that all three bills contain very specific, yet different, exceptions to the video-recording requirements.

Even though it is far too early to determine if any of these pieces of legislation will become law, the simple fact that they have been introduced is a sign that lawmakers understand that false confessions -- and subsequent wrongful convictions -- are a real problem.

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