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Bill to require recorded interrogations defeated.

A bill requiring police in Florida to record interrogations in felony cases has been defeated in a House committee.

HB 721 by Rep. Perry E. Thurston, DFt. Lauderdale, was voted down 10-1 in the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee on March 26. The bill received strong support from the Florida Public Defender Association and the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, but was opposed by the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, the Florida Police Chiefs Association, and the Florida Sheriffs Association.

Thurston said the bill made allowances for spontaneous confessions when recording equipment wasn't available, when equipment failed, and other contingencies.

Opponents said it would be expensive to buy the necessary equipment and then file the resulting recordings, could lead to legal challenges that procedures under the statute for making recordings weren't followed, and could be difficult for police to follow in cases where, when interviewing a witness, it became clear that person also might be a suspect.

"This bill proposes that there will be less squandering of judicial time when in fact I would propose there will be more, much more, squandering of judicial time, and the defense will be able to attack whether it was a custodial interview, was the operator competent, was it delivered to the defense within 20 days," said Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford, noting his department already records interrogations for serious felonies.

"This bill will in fact invalidate what are good confessions and guilty suspects will be set free and it will make law enforcement much more difficult and make it more dangerous for the citizens of Florida."

Supporters said it would save court time, because recording interviews in felony cases would end challenges to how confessions were obtained and end questions about whether police acted properly in interrogations.

"If it's the goal of the criminal justice system to search for the truth, then this is a way that would greatly benefit that quest," said Robert Trammell, representing the FPDA. "We understand we have the unpopular side of this issue. But to us, the Florida public defenders, it is a money saving device and it reaches out for the truth."

Attorney Tom Powell, representing the FACDL, said digital recorders are inexpensive and noted that in a quarter of cases where people have been found wrongfully convicted only to be later cleared by DNA evidence, they had confessed because of abusive interrogations.

He also noted that in any investigation, criminal or not, that affects a police officer's employment, the officer under Florida law has an absolute right to a recorded interview.

"It adds to the credibility of police officers and it facilitates the completions of criminal cases," Powell said, arguing for the bill. "Let's open the window and let the jury hear what the defendant had to say. Let's hear the question and let's hear the answer. This is a method of getting at the truth."

The committee's action effectively kills the bill, which the FACDL had set as its top legislative priority for this year's session. A similar bill in the Senate had not been heard in committee.

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Publication:Florida Bar News
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Apr 15, 2008
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