October 07, 2002

Clarence Page: Videotaping Statements Protects All

Clarence Page on the Central Park Jogger Case and Videotaped confessions:

...[B]oosting [Reyes'] credibility, police say his DNA matches the semen found on the jogger's sock, which turns out to be the only physical evidence turned up in the case. (A blonde hair on one suspect and believed at first to belong to the victim turned out to be a mismatch.) At the time, prosecutors downplayed the glaring fact that their DNA evidence did not match any of the suspects they had turned up. They also downplayed the curious fact that none of their suspects had any blood on their persons, despite the large amount of blood that soaked the scene and the victim's clothing. If they were indeed guilty, they had to be the neatest marauding teenagers that history has ever known.

Without hard evidence and with some conflicts in witness accounts, the case rested mainly on the videotaped confessions that were signed by the defendants and their parents, confessions they and their lawyers now say were coerced. Now lawyers for at least three of those who were convicted are trying to have the verdicts set aside. A judge has given the Manhattan district attorney until Oct. 21 to respond.

I can only imagine that the police who investigated this case wish they had videotaped not only the confessions but also the interrogations, as numerous judicial reformers wish they and other law enforcers would. If the police are speaking truthfully when they say they used no unfair coercion, the tape would show it. A judge and jury would be impressed. The complainants would have no case.

That's the side of the videotape argument that gets too little attention. While video acts to protect the rights of defendants, it also helps protect police and the prosecution from charges like coercion that sometimes sway jurors to decide against an otherwise solid case.

Videotaped interrogations was a major recommendation issued by Illinois Governor George Ryan's Commission on Capital Punishment, after an excessive amount of wrongful death-row convictions moved the governor to put a moratorium on executions. It was a wise suggestion that other agencies should follow.

Posted by ronn at October 7, 2002 01:10 AM