Recording is Rare
The Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School and the Wilson Center for Science and Justice at Duke Law released a new report on law enforcement interrogation policies in Pennsylvania, the first of its kind to review Pennsylvania interrogation practices.
The report describes the results of a state-wide project using public records requests to review the interrogation policies of more than 1,000 Pennsylvania law enforcement agencies, the largest sample ever surveyed in this type of study.View the Full Report [PDF]
About the Report
The study findings suggest that a state-wide overhaul of interrogation policy and practice is needed in Pennsylvania. Across the state, many agencies lack any custodial interrogation policies or have done no more than set out the Miranda warnings required by the U.S. Constitution.
Legislation requiring videotaping of interrogations can both prevent wrongful convictions due to false confessions and can also powerfully benefit law enforcement by providing a clear record of what was said during questioning. We recommend that all custodial interrogations be recorded and this requirement be adopted in a statute statewide, to ensure uniform adoption. Additionally, we suggest that a model Pennsylvania interrogation policy is needed, given how few agencies have detailed policies to guide the conduct of custodial interrogations.
Two bills regarding electronic recording of interrogations in Pennsylvania were introduced in the 2021-2022 session but failed to pass into law. First, PA House Bill 2005 would require that a law enforcement agency make a complete and contemporaneous electronic recording of a custodial interrogation. Second, PA Senate Bill 328 would require a complete and contemporaneous electronic recording of each custodial interrogation for certain offenses. Neither bill advanced during the current Legislative session and will need to be re-introduced as a new term begins.
1 out of 3
Only about one-third of law enforcement agencies had policies regarding interrogations
Of those, 116 agencies required electronic recording of interrogations all or some of the time, while 101 encouraged recording or made it an option
Of over 1,000 agencies, only 217 had written policies on recording interrogations
“Nationwide, recording police interrogations is a recognized best practice that creates a record of what happens when police question a suspect using coercive conduct that can produce damaging false confessions,” said Marissa Bluestine, Assistant Director of the Quattrone Center, whose team led the study. “Over a decade ago, a Joint Committee of the Pennsylvania Legislature recommended law enforcement agencies in the commonwealth fully record police interrogations. That has yet to happen. Across the country, law enforcement agencies have shifted toward recording all interrogations, and many states now require it. What was not well known was how many agencies in Pennsylvania have adopted this best practice, and our study shows there is a lot of work to be done in this area.”
Why Videotaping Confessions Matters
The American Law Institute and a range of law, psychology, and criminal procedure experts have long recommended electronically recording interrogations, preferably by videotaping the full interrogation.
Doing so not only prevents confession contamination and wrongful convictions, as described, but it creates a clear record of the interrogation.
Interrogation Policies in Pennsylvania
Regarding how to conduct interrogations, only about one-third had written policies regarding police questioning of witnesses in custody, or who were not free to leave, including the Miranda warnings required by the U.S. Constitution.
Of over 1,000 agencies, only about 217 had written policies on recording interrogations.
“This study of interrogation policies was an enormous undertaking. The work of filing and following up with over a thousand right to know requests was remarkable,” said Brandon Garrett, Faculty Director of the Wilson Center. “The work that went into coding these policies, conducted with the help of dedicated students, was still more demanding. The results, however, shed important light on the need to improve interrogation policies in Pennsylvania.”
Dr. Rachel Greenspan, formerly a fellow of the Quattrone Center and currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies at the University of Mississippi, led the research team in obtaining and evaluating these policies. Dr. Adele Quigley-McBride, a post-doctoral fellow at the Wilson Center, led in coding these policies.
In 2011, the PA State Senate Judiciary Committee – Joint State Government Commission to Study Wrongful Convictions, consisting of members appointed by the House and Senate, suggested in a report that:
Statutes should require custodial interrogations to be electronically recorded with a coextensive wiretap exception for law enforcement.
“Across the country, law enforcement agencies have shifted to requiring recordings of interrogations, yet Pennsylvania agencies have largely remained as outliers,” adds Bluestine. “A consistent requirement that interrogations be electronically recorded is needed. Given the variation in existing policies and how few agencies have detailed policies to guide the conduct of custodial interrogations, we suggest a model interrogation policy is needed for Pennsylvania similar to what other states have provided.”
The research team included: Marissa Bluestine, an Assistant Director of the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, Brandon Garrett, the L. Neil Williams Professor of Law, at Duke University School of Law and the faculty director of the Wilson Center for Science and Justice at Duke Law, Dr. Rachel Greenspan, formerly a fellow of the Quattrone Center and currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies at the University of Mississippi, Dr. Adele Quigley-McBride, a post-doctoral fellow at the Wilson Center, and Sydney LaPine, a current Duke undergraduate student.