The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa is asking justices on the state’s highest court to order law enforcement agencies to record all their interviews with suspects if they have recording devices available.
The ACLU argues electronic recordings help courts determine whether suspects have given voluntary confessions, plus a recording protects law enforcement from accusations that they used improper tactics to obtain a confession.
“This is really a situation where everyone wins,” says Rita Bettis of ACLU of Iowa, the main author of a brief submitted to the court on Wednesday.
The Iowa Supreme Court, the state’s attorney general and officials in the Iowa Department of Public Safety agreed in 2006 that suspect interviews in Iowa should be recorded electronically. However, the Iowa Supreme Court is now reviewing a 2012 case in which that did not happen. Two state agents were questioning a suspect in the Polk County Jail and chose not to record the interview — relying instead on the agents’ written notes.
The ACLU argues that written evidence — and the confession it referenced — should be thrown out. If the policy is allowed to stand, Bettis says there will be an incentive NOT to record suspect interrogations.
“It shouldn’t be based on an arbitrary or deliberate decision on the part of law enforcement,” Bettis says.
Bettis also cites the work of the so-called “Innocence Project” which uses DNA evidence to free wrongly convicted inmates around the country. About one-fourth of the project’s over-turned convictions involve a confession introduced as evidence during trial that was not an electronic recording, but a written confession.