We've all heard the horror stories of police beating confessions out of criminal suspects.
Bright lights, rubber hoses and a good right cross used to be enough to get someone to confess, at least in all those 1970s cop shows.
More likely these days, a false confession is coerced out of a suspect in more passive-aggressive ways, such as keeping suspects awake for 15 or 20 hours in a row until they'll admit to the Lindbergh kidnapping just to get a few winks.
Police also use other coercive techniques like screaming at suspects until they can't take the pressure, or taking advantage of mentally challenged individuals who will say whatever the police want them to just to please them.
You wouldn't think it would be that easy to get someone to confess to a crime they didn't commit. But in 30 percent of cases in which DNA evidence resulted in convictions being overturned, the suspect had falsely confessed to the crime or given other self-incriminating statements.
You might feel it's OK for some anonymous criminal to be treated in such a way. But what about you? Or your child or your spouse? Would you want yourself or them exposed to refined interrogation techniques that get people to admit to crimes they didn't actually do?
A key tool in the fight against false confessions is the emergence of recorded interrogations.
Early on, police and prosecutors resisted the effort, seeing it as potentially handcuffing their efforts to elicit confessions by using techniques the public might find objectionable, such as lying to suspects. (They can legally do that.) They also feared it would reveal interrogation techniques that suspects would then learn to exploit.
But not only have tapings helped reduce wrongful convictions, they’re actually helping prosecutors secure convictions. In the last few years, juries have come to expect being able to view a criminal interrogation. In many cases, the videotaped interrogation confirms the suspect's guilt in jurors' minds. In fact, some suspects, faced with their confessions being played for a jury, have opted to just plead guilty, saving taxpayers the time and expense of a trial.
Slowly, police and prosecutors have come around to the idea, as evidenced by the announcement last week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. of $500,000 to be used statewide to expand videotaping of interrogations.
The money will be distributed to district attorney's offices, police and sheriff's departments for their use in buying recording equipment.
This latest investment brings to about $3.5 million the amount of money the state has provided for videotaping interrogations.
Right now, all 62 counties in the state have at least one entity capable of recording interrogations.
This is an effective use of state tax dollars that will help get criminals off the street and ensure fairness to all citizens exposed to the criminal justice system.