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Bill would require videotapes of interrogations in homicide cases

Posted March 23, 2009

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— A bill making its way through the General Assembly would require law enforcement officers to videotape interrogations during homicide investigations.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Kelly Alexander, D-Mecklenburg, said its purpose is to protect defendants from being coerced into making confessions.

"It would help eliminate any claim from either side about mistreatment, about misunderstandings," Alexander said.

Lawmakers push for videotaping all homicide interrogations Lawmakers push to tape homicide interrogations

House Bill 33 would change the law to require officers to make both video and audio recordings that are "authentic, accurate, unaltered" recordings of interrogations. A law established last year requires only an audio recording.

John Midgette, executive director of the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association, said that while the public might question some interrogation tactics officers use, recordings would ultimately protect officers.

"It does open up debate," Midgette said. "(But) used properly, I think it would be an excellent tool for everybody involved in law enforcement."

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said he is generally in favor of the bill. Videotaped confessions and interrogations make compelling evidence in court, he said.

"I think watching the defendant – his facial expressions, the graphic way in which he shows what he or she has done – will be helpful and moving to the jury," Willoughby said.

Prosecutors played a videotaped interrogation by Raleigh police for the first time during a trial this month. The recording revealed inconsistencies in DonJuan Smith’s story, Willoughby said, helping to secure a conviction of first-degree murder for the death of 2-year-old Charvis "Junior" Dublin Jr.

Willoughby said his concern is that bill could allow homicide cases to be thrown out on a technicality, such as if a camera broke down during an interrogation.

The bill should also provide proper funding to set up the camera systems, Willoughby said. A note attached to the bill by the legislative Fiscal Research Division says that local law enforcement agencies are responsible to purchase and maintain the recording equipment.

"Every department will have to be equipped in order to do that, and it will be expensive," Willoughby said. "And for most of them, they may not use it every year. Small departments may not have a murder every year."

The Raleigh Police Department spent about $25,000 to set up digital cameras in its four interrogation rooms.

If passed, the bill would apply to interrogations done on or after Dec. 1. It passed its first reading in the House Feb. 2 and was referred to the Judiciary Committee.

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  • thepeopleschamp Mar 23, 2009

    There are lawyers right now brain storming how to use this to their advantage. They will argue the video stopped during taping, didn't start soon enough, cut off too soon. I'm sure they will create a dozen loopholes before this is even close to being a law.

  • meh2 Mar 23, 2009

    They should pass a law that requires all testimony in grand jury presentations be memorialized, too. Nifong would have been uncovered much sooner if that was the case.

  • Adelinthe Mar 23, 2009

    But I wonder if they're thinking about videotapes being altered. If so, it shouldn't be a concern because that can now be detected with specialized equipment.

    God bless.

    RB

  • Adelinthe Mar 23, 2009

    Can't believe this isn't already the case.

    pfffttt

    God bless.

    RB

  • Reason Mar 23, 2009

    I support the bill just like i was in favor of the last one requiring these interrogations to be elctronicly recorded. However, this bill will put additional financial strain on smaller departments. Especially since some departments have aready spent money on audio recording devices a year ago. Hoefully the chiefs and sheriffs saw this coming and opted for video equipment the first time around.

  • bill0 Mar 23, 2009

    I don't see how any thinking person could be against taping confessions. If it is a legitimate confession, a video tape of it will be 10 times more damning than an officer recounting the confession. If a defendant claims a confession was coerced, then the tape would provide conclusive evidence either way for that accusation. This is a win-win for the justice system. It makes it easier to convict the guilty and less likely that the innocent are trampled over.

  • OLD PIRATE 2 Mar 23, 2009

    Only if the victim of the crime was also taped...Now do you understand why I've been saying our legislature needs to adjourn earlier. "Idelness is the devils....."