Illinois Will Require Taping of Homicide Interrogations
By Monica Davey, The New York Times
Chicago -- Though he once opposed the idea, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich said he would sign a bill on Thursday that would make Illinois the first state to pass legislation requiring police to record their interrogations of homicide suspects.
Another bill, with a sweeping set of measures intended to overhaul the state's death penalty system, is also awaiting his signature, and Governor Blagojevich, a Democrat, said today that he supported, at least, many elements of it.
The willingness to rethink the system by which some prisoners end up on death row has changed since the days before George Ryan, the Republican who preceded Mr. Blagojevich, pronounced the state's capital punishment system broken, declared a moratorium on executions, and then, before leaving office this year, granted clemency to all the condemned.
Governor Blagojevich, a former prosecutor, said his concerns about "hampering the law enforcement community" by requiring the police to tape interrogations had been overridden by the notion that tapes will provide "clearer, more reliable" evidence for the state's justice system.
Even law enforcement officials, some of whom objected strenuously as recently as three years ago to the idea that interviews be recorded, have grown more muted as the politics have shifted here.
"We're not in favor of the mandatory provision," Mark Donahue, who leads the Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago, said of the recording bill this afternoon. "We would prefer that it be voluntary. But we're realists about all of this as well."
The law will require detectives to audio- or videotape homicide suspects during interrogations that occur while the suspects are in custody.
The police in Minnesota and Alaska and some individual law enforcement agencies around the country already tape interviews with suspects, but Illinois is the first state to pass legislation requiring taping, said Thomas P. Sullivan, a Chicago lawyer who helped lead a commission appointed by Mr. Ryan to overhaul the state's death penalty system. Minnesota and Alaska were required to do so by their state supreme courts.
"This is good for everybody," said Scott Turow, a lawyer and an author who was a member of the commission, which included recording on a long list of suggestions for change.
Supporters of taped interrogations say the process protects both police and defendants by creating a simple, clear record for juries and judges of who said what during an investigation. The tapes, these supporters say, would resolve what has become a routine debate during criminal trials between the police, who testify that suspects confessed to crimes, and defendants, who testify that they did not confess, or at least that they did not do so voluntarily.
"Why should we assume that the police remember everything that happened?" asked Yale Kamisar, a law professor at the University of Michigan and the University of San Diego.
Opponents of such a measure have argued that a recording requirement could prevent the police from carrying on interviews as they had before, or discourage suspects from speaking openly. This afternoon, a spokesman for the Chicago police said the department opposed the measure, but for financial reasons.
Dave Bayless, the spokesman, said that adding video equipment and training technicians would cost $3 million in Chicago in the first year. The bill requires that the provision be put into effect by two years from now.
Amy Klobuchar, a prosecutor for Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis, said some authorities there initially worried about the idea.
"None of the worries proved true," Ms. Klobuchar said. "Instead, it makes everyone clear about what happened."
Governor Blagojevich must decide on the related bill that would bar executions of mentally retarded people, give defendants more access to DNA evidence and set up a test program for conducting police lineups.
"I'm looking at it very closely," the governor said this afternoon of the broader bill, which, like the taping provision, was overwhelmingly supported by the Democratic-dominated Legislature in Springfield. "The odds are that most of that package is something that I'll support."
Even with the changes, Governor Blagojevich, who supports capital punishment, suggested he might not end the death penalty moratorium yet.
"I would like to see the death penalty restored in Illinois if I felt that the death penalty was foolproof in Illinois," he said. '`But that's the operative question. Morality requires that we not rush to lift the moratorium."
Gary Gauger, a farmer from McHenry County who was sent to Illinois' death row for killing his parents in 1993, only to be exonerated later, was convicted largely on what the police considered his confession, said Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University.
Mr. Gauger, now 51, said in an interview that he wished his words had been taped. He said the investigators did not heed his requests to stop the interrogation, described to him damaging evidence that did not exist, and suggested he might have forgotten what he had done.
"They got me thinking that I must have done it in a blackout," he said. "In my case, if a video had been on, they could have seen what had happened to me. Not only would the jury have acted differently, the police would have done things differently in the first place."
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