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Police Must Now Record Interrogations of Juvenile Murder Suspects

False confessions may be a recurring problem in our criminal justice system, but the problem is especially pronounced in interrogations of juvenile suspects. In a series of studies cited by State Sen. Ted W. Lieu, the author of Senate Bill 569, research showed the following:

  • Out of 125 false confessions in one study, 33 percent were from juveniles, most of whom confessed to murder;
  • In a review of exonerations between 1989 and 2004, 42 percent of juvenile exonorees' cases involved false confessions (compared with 13 percent of adults);
  • Among the youngest of those exonerees, ages 12 to 15, 69 percent confessed to homicides and sexual assaults that they did not commit.

This is most likely a problem attributable to the partially-developed brains of children and teenagers. The same justification provided support for the Supreme Court's elimination of the death penalty for juveniles and California's mercy rule, passed last year, for juveniles convicted of homicide.

The new bill requires that interrogations of minors suspected of homicide be videotaped, both to increase the strength of the evidence against the suspect, and to guard against false confessions. There are exceptions however, including where:

  • Exigent circumstances (which must be noted in the police report) exist;
  • The person being interrogated refuses to speak unless the conversation is not recorded (the refusal and ultimatum should be recorded if possible);
  • The interrogation takes place in another jurisdiction (outside of California);
  • The person being interrogated wasn't suspected of murder, though if the officer begins to have such suspicions during the interrogation, she should commence recording;
  • Recording would jeopardize the safety of a confidential informant, the suspect, or a police officer (again, this must be noted in the police report);
  • The recording device malfunctions (despite maintenance, best efforts, etc.);
  • The confession results spontaneously from routine booking questions.

Any claims of exemption must be proven by the prosecutor by clear and convincing evidence.

The bill was signed by Governor Brown earlier this month.

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