By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK, Sept 20 (Reuters) - The New York Police Department
will begin videotaping all post-arrest interrogations in sex
crimes and murder cases, a move that Chief Judge Jonathan
Lippman said would have a "dramatic impact" on the city's
criminal justice system.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly's announcement, which came
Wednesday during a speech to the Carnegie Council, a non-profit
international affairs institution, drew praise from all corners
of the legal profession, including the New York Civil Liberties
Union, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and the New York
State Bar Association.
"It will help jurors get to the truth about what actually
happened in the interrogation room -- rather than relying on the
sometimes conflicting testimony of the defendant and police
officer," said Seymour James, the bar association's president
and the head of the Legal Aid Society's criminal practice.
The NYPD began taping interrogations last year in felony
assault cases in four detective squads as a pilot program, Kelly
said, according to a copy of Wednesday's speech provided by the
NYPD. In several instances, Kelly said, prosecutors were able to
secure early pleas after showing the videotapes to defense
The expansion of the program came after the New York State
Justice Task Force, which included Kelly and Lippman as members,
recommended in January that the state legislature pass a law
mandating the recording of all custodial interviews at a
detention facility, such as a police station or a prosecutor's
That bill failed to pass in Albany this summer, and Kelly
said on Wednesday that his department would not wait for
lawmakers to act.
"Recording can aid not only the innocent, the defense and
the prosecution but also enhance public confidence in the
criminal justice system by increasing transparency as to what
was said and done when the suspect agreed to speak with police,"
The initiative from the nation's largest police force will
likely serve as a model for other departments in both New York
and around the nation, Lippman said. A number of states already
mandate recording of interviews for certain crimes.
The practice has grown increasingly common in recent years,
as digital technology has enabled videotaping to become far more
affordable. Kelly said the non-profit New York City Police
Foundation will help pay to install video capacity in the city's
76 precincts with a $3 million grant.
Stephen Saloom, the policy director for the Innocence
Project at Yeshiva University's Cardozo School of Law, called
the proposal a "good first step" but said that all custodial
interrogations, not merely those that come after arrest, should
be videotaped to prevent false confessions.
The NYPD's chief spokesman, Paul Browne, acknowledged some
law enforcement advocates have expressed concern that juries
will recoil at some of the common interrogative techniques
employed by police -- lying to suspects, for instance.
But Browne said Kelly was confident that judges would be
able to instruct juries adequately to prevent any bias.
Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the NYCLU, said
the measure would reduce the likelihood of wrongful convictions.
At the same time, the videotapes will prevent "specious"
claims about police misconduct during interrogations, Browne
Vance, president of the District Attorneys Association of
the State of New York, said the move would help "build stronger
cases and ensure just and fair outcomes."
In his speech, Kelly said the "C.S.I. effect" -- referring
to the popular television drama that highlights the use of
technology in police investigations -- has prompted juries to
expect that interrogations are taped as a matter of course.
"We want to continue to stay ahead of the curve," he said.
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