With Texas Senate Bill 1253, the Rules on Interrogations Changed
Texas Senate Bill 1253 was officially passed on June 15, 2017, and became law on September 1, 2017.
The law reads, “Unless good cause exists that makes electronic recording infeasible, a law enforcement agency shall make a complete and contemporaneous electronic recording of any custodial interrogation that occurs in a place of detention and is of a person suspected of committed or charged with the commission of a crime…”
The law goes on to explain that the recordings are required for certain types of crimes, such as murder, kidnapping, aggravated kidnapping, trafficking and sex-related crimes.
The recording must begin either at or before the time the accused enters the area where the interrogation will occur, and it must continue until the interrogation has ended.
Why did the legislature feel that such a law was necessary?
Texas, unfortunately, has a high wrongful conviction rate. In fact, there have been 229 convicted felons who have been exonerated in the last 25 years. That’s more than 10 individuals every year being freed from prison for crimes they did not commit.
Prior to the current law, written statements from interrogations could be admitted in criminal trials. In some cases, oral or sign language statements were also required. However, recording the actual interrogation was not mandatory. Without such a requirement, many law enforcement officers only recorded bits and pieces of interviews—if anything was recorded at all.
According to the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission, there are four areas that could undergo significant improvements, including recording interrogations. The other three are forensic science procedures and false accusations, mistaken eyewitness identification, and jailhouse informant rules.
Timothy Cole died in 1999 in prison while serving a 25-year sentence for a crime he did not commit. He was pardoned posthumously after DNA evidence exonerated him in 2009.
The commission’s December 2017 report read, “In cases where false confessions have resulted in wrongful convictions, electronic recording of the interrogation process can assist all interested parties in determining whether or not the interrogation was carried out in an appropriate manner and if it resulted in an accurate statement.”
In addition to Texas, twenty other states, as well as the District of Columbia, have laws that govern recording interrogations.
Recording interrogations may provide valuable insight into the conditions that causes a defendant to confess. For example, Ted Bradford confessed to a crime he did not commit in Nevada after sustaining grueling interrogation conditions.
He said, “[Law enforcement] kept telling me, ‘We know you’re a liar, you’ve got to tell us the truth’…This went on for over nine hours that I was there…Nothing to eat or drink, exhausted, they kept telling me over and over—you’re not getting out of this room until you tell us what happened…So in my mind, I thought, the only way I’m getting out of here is if I make up this story, and tell them that I did it.”
However, only the final 30 minutes of Bradford’s interrogation was recorded and submitted as evidence in court. Bradford spent 10 years in prison and another 4 years awaiting a retrial—all for a crime he did not commit.
The new Texas law aims to prevent such devastating results, where innocent people are imprisoned and the true perpetrators of crime walk free.
If you have been charged with a crime, contact leading Denton criminal defense lawyer for a free consultation
Denton criminal defense attorney Brent D. Bowen vehemently defends his clients and ensures their rights are protected. Mr. Bowen is quick to pursue all of the defenses available in a claim and does not allow members of law enforcement to use improper evidence against his clients. To schedule your free consultation with attorney Bowen, call 940-222-2488 or contact us online.