Old habits die hard- recording interrogations E-mail
Written by Mark Nichols   

Best patterns and practices have determined the best way to reduce one of the major flaws in the American criminal justice system: wrongful convictions. Getting something done about it is another story entirely, however. According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, incoming Illinois State Rep. Scott Drury has introduced two bills he hopes will make a difference. Drury is a former federal prosecutor. Now he represents part of Lake County, which has a history of convicting the wrong men.

Drury’s bills would require police to record more interrogations than they do currently and also switch to lineup methods that would keep officers from steering eyewitnesses toward specific suspects.

Law enforcement authorities agree reducing wrongful convictions is worth making a few changes.

But the bills Drury has proposed face resistance from agencies including the Chicago Police Department and Cook County state's attorney's office.

Prosecutors say the recording proposal is “logistically unrealistic,” despite the fact that it’s common practice in other jurisdictions. Chicago police say the lineup measure is impractical and could hinder witness cooperation.

Drury argues the bills will help authorities make stronger cases in court while at the same time preventing misconduct and unintentional police errors.

On the recording bill, prosecutors and Drury agree more interrogations should be taped, both to protect suspects from coercion and even more importantly to dismiss bogus police abuse claims.

Law enforcement groups and reform advocates praise a 2003 law mandating recording of interrogations in homicides and agree the requirement should be expanded.

And that’s where the progress stopped in getting the stakeholders to agree on what other types of cases should be taped besides homicide.

The state Senate just recently passed a bill that seeks the same goal as Drury’s proposals but takes a “softer approach,” to having more interrogations recorded.

But the state senate’s bill actually relaxes rules governing voluntary taping. State legislators say that by making it voluntary police will choose to do it more often.

That's a long shot at best says Drury.

"If we want to prevent wrongful convictions and we want to prevent the next (former Chicago police commander Jon) Burge, we need to require recording of more interrogations," he said.

Drury, a Democrat from Highwood elected in November, takes wrongful convictions so seriously because he’s seen them up close.

He describes Lake County's spate of wrongful convictions as "horrible." Four defendants in major felony cases there have been exonerated by DNA evidence since 2010.
Illinois is responsible for about 10 percent of the 1,102 known exonerations nationwide since 1989.

That’s more than every state except Texas and California, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the Northwestern University and University of Michigan law schools.


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