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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Annapolis Tries for Videotaped Interrogations

From mobtown beat: The video-interrogations measure is getting a third try this year in Annapolis, having failed in two previous sessions. This year's model is called House Bill 6 (HB 6), and the continuing opposition it faces from most of Maryland's law-enforcement community echoes the sentiments of police and prosecutors nationwide, which were measured in a 2007 study published in The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. "Our results," the authors write, "suggest that for whatever reason--cost, storage issues, inertia, or a desire to avoid exposure in occasional cases of false confessions--support for videotaping exists but is not overwhelming" among police brass of the country's largest municipal departments, 40 percent of whom opposed videotaping interrogations.

As law-enforcement leaders from around Maryland milled about waiting for the House Judiciary Committee hearing to begin, the tenor of this year's resistance was best uttered by James Green, a Baltimore City police lawyer. "It's a bad thing," he said of HB 6. "But we need a lot of money if it's going to become a good thing." According to the bill's fiscal note, city police would require close to 10 interview rooms costing $10,000 per room, and the state's cumulative cost over the first five years of the law's implementation would be about $500,000.

Baltimore City Del. Curtis Anderson (D-43rd) is the lead sponsor of the measure, and at the hearing he told his committee colleagues that Barack Obama, whom Anderson supports in this year's presidential race, championed a similar measure's passage in Illinois in 2003, when Obama was a state senator there. Illinois was the first state to pass such a law, though local governments had already been adopting similar measures, as pointed out in a Chicago Tribune editorial that praised Obama's bill "as a way to reduce defendants' false claims of police coercion, bolster prosecutors' cases in court and restore public trust in the justice system."

Eight states and Washington, D.C., now require videotaped interrogations, and Anderson told the committee that local jurisdictions in every state require it. Top cops who made the transition against their better judgment at the outset have since become proponents. Massachusetts district attorney William M. Bennett, for example, told Lawyers Weekly last year that he'd opposed the change because he thought it would result "in a number of defendants refusing to give statements. They might be willing to speak to the police, but they'd be hesitant and reluctant to be recorded. I was wrong."

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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