Mandatory recording of police interrogation debated in Florida

The issue of mandatory electronic recording during police interrogations has become a hot political issue in Florida. While the Florida legislature failed to pass a bill mandating recording interrogations, candidates for state Attorney General are taking positions on the issue of electronic recording of police interrogations.

State Senator by Senator Jeff Brandes introduced a bill last December, SB 1220 Detention Facilities, that would have mandated the recording of suspect interrogations by law enforcement officials, forcing those who did not comply to justify their action in a written report.

“It’s 2018. If we have standards for body cameras, we should have them for interrogations,” Brandes said regarding the bill.

The Florida Innocence Project, a nonprofit has assisted wrongfully convicted criminals for 25 years, has been advocating for the bill.

It was approved unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee but its companion bill in the House was not voted on prior to the end of the legislative session and died.

Law enforcement interest groups such as Florida Police Chiefs Association opposed the bill on the grounds that it would be overly obstructive hinder obtaining confessions.

However, the issue continues to be publicly debated with candidates for Attorney General publicly stating their position on the subject. The candidates are split on party lines with Democratic candidates Sean Shaw and Ryan Torrens supporting mandatory recording and Republicans Frank White, Ashley Moody, and Jay Frant opposing such legislation.  

Police often use a variety of underhanded tactics during interrogations that often last more than six hours to break down suspects. While deception by the police has been sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court, threats of physical intimidation make a confession inadmissible.

In recent years, DNA testing has led many states including Florida to release many wrongfully convicted felons who had been serving time for crimes they did not commit. Many suspects of limited mental capacity who wrongfully admitted to guilt while under duress during lengthy police interrogations were later exonerated by DNA testing.

In 2009 Anthony Caravella was released after serving 26 years for being wrongfully convicted of murder. He was 15 when was initially convicted and had an IQ of 67. This prompted the Florida Supreme Court in 2010 to mandate the creation of the Florida Innocence Commission to address the issue.

In 2012, the commission issued a report creating standards that law enforcement officials should follow while interrogating suspects which included electronically recording statements made by suspects. It argued that this would lead to more expedient trial proceedings along with fewer wrongful convictions. It subsequently recommended that the Florida legislature pass a law utilizing that standard. That standard has yet to be enacted.

The issue is more pressing in Florida because it has a larger prison population compared to other states.

In 2013, Caravella was awarded $7 million after a jury found that he had been framed by the officers handling the case.

Several major city police departments in Florida are already required to record interrogations including Daytona Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Myers, Palm Beach, Pensacola Miami-Dade County, Orlando, and Tallahassee.