Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 8, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

VIDEOTAPING THE POLICE....The LA Times has a pretty interesting feature article today about the growing use of videotape in police interviews. I thought the most interesting part was that although it requires police to be more careful in how they conduct interviews, many of them say they like it once they they get used to it:

"It's done nothing but help us in getting back the credibility of police," said Capt. Jim Stover of the Police Department in O'Fallon, Ill., which has begun taping more than a year ahead of the state requirement.

"Any detective who doesn't do it is crazy," said Los Angeles Police Sgt. Donovan Nickerson, who routinely tapes his interrogations, although the LAPD does not require it.

And apparently cameras have other uses too:

Most law-enforcement agencies do not require officers to tell a suspect he's being taped. Hidden in a clock or a light fixture, the pinhole-size camera lenses have recorded suspects scrambling to get their alibis straight even using their cellphones to make sure evidence has been destroyed as they wait for their interrogator to arrive.

In Hennepin County, Minn., authorities recall a suspect who told police he couldn't possibly have dismembered a corpse, because he was blind. When the officer left the room, he started reading a paper.

In Broward County, Fla., the suspect in a hatchet murder case stymied detectives with his steadfast denials. Frustrated, the interviewer walked out, saying he was going to get a DNA expert to scrape under the suspect's fingernails for traces of blood. As soon as the door closed, the suspect began sucking his nails furiously.

I'd like to see videotaping required for all police interviews, and in return I'd suggest that the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination be discarded. If police interviews are all recorded and trials are all held in public, it's not at all clear to me what value the 5th Amendment right to silence has anymore.

Sure, it'll never happen. But with Star Chambers a thing of the past and videotaping preventing coerced confessions, I really do wonder if the self-incrimination clause of the 5th Amendment has enough value left to make it worth the problems it causes. I suspect it doesn't.

UPDATE: Well, that suggestion didn't go over very well, did it?

Kevin Drum 2:36 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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