A bipartisan bill that would require police and other law enforcement officials to record electronically the interviews of suspects linked to some of the most serious criminal offenses is intended to set a higher standard of transparency and accountability in adjudicating these crimes.
Filed as House Bill 277, the measure will not impede law enforcement agents from doing their difficult jobs and it will not add expenses that taxpayers must bear, Reps. Thomas West, D-Canton, and Phil Plummer, R-Dayton, assured members of the Criminal Justice Committee in the Ohio House of Representatives recently.
Their bill was written with input from major stakeholders that included prosecutors, law enforcement, criminal defense attorneys and wrongful conviction organizations.
Specifically, HB 277 would require every statement made in a custodial interrogation in a place of detention to be electronically recorded if the statement is made by a person who is suspected of any of the following offenses:
- Aggravated murder, murder, or voluntary manslaughter;
- A first or second degree felony violation of involuntary manslaughter or aggravated
vehicular homicide; or
- Rape, attempted rape, or sexual battery.
“HB 277 will establish a statewide standard … ,” Plummer said. “This bill will protect the constitutional rights of the suspects and improve community trust.”
Nearly half of all states already require or encourage electronic recording of interrogations in their entirety, the lawmakers noted. And since 2014, federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and DEA, have recorded interrogations for suspects charged with any federal felony.
There are, however, exceptions to the requirement. Electronic recording is not required in any of the following circumstances:
- The person subject to interrogation requests that the interrogation not be recorded, as long as this request is preserved by electronic recording or in writing;
- The recording equipment malfunctions;
- There are exigent circumstances related to public safety;
- The interrogation occurs outside of Ohio;
- The statements are made during routine processing or booking; or
- The interrogation occurs when no law enforcement officer conducting the interrogation has any knowledge that would lead an officer to reasonably believe that the individual committed one of the specified offenses. If, during a custodial interrogation, the individual reveals information that gives law enforcement officers reason to believe that a specified offense has been committed, continued custodial interrogation must be recorded, subject to the exceptions.
“Among other things, recording interrogations helps prevent convictions based on false confessions because objective recordings allow superior officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and jurors to better understand the dynamics surrounding statements by suspects, including confessions,” the lawmakers said in joint testimony. “People from all walks of life are vulnerable to the risk of false confession under certain circumstances.
“But the most vulnerable people among us are particularly at risk of false confessions, and research amply supports that risk for juveniles and people with mental health disabilities and cognitive impairments.”
HB 277 also would require a court to consider any failure to electronically record a statement in adjudicating motions to exclude or suppress the statement.
“The more transparency and accountability we can provide, the more trust Ohioans will have in our judicial and criminal justice systems,” West said. “This bill is just one piece of a bigger puzzle in ensuring all Ohioans are treated fairly, and feel safe and secure at home.”
Five fellow House members have signed on as cosponsors of the bill, which had not been scheduled a second hearing at time of publication.