Criminal Justice News and VIews

Interesting items related to criminal justice

My Photo
Location: Scottsdale, Arizona, United States

I love teaching and sharing knowledge. The Internet is a free passage to an amazing amount of knowledge provided by some of the greatest minds of the day. MIT, Oxford and other universities are now sharing lecture notes with the public and allowing us to dip into the overflowing fonts of wisdom that abound. Yale is but one university that has put actual lectures on the web.

Friday, July 08, 2005

More states need to follow Wisconsin

A number of inmates who were eventually exonerated were often sentenced because of confessions that the individual later claimed was not voluntary or false. Wisconsin will now require that all interrogations of juveniles for both misdemeanor and felony offenses be taped. How this will effect the number of "coerced" juvenile confessions remains to be seen. By coerced I do not mean physical coercision but psychological.

Here is the article

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online

Original URL:

Interrogations must be taped
State court ruling applies to juveniles
Posted: July 7, 2005

Law enforcement agencies statewide were ordered Thursday by the state Supreme Court to immediately begin electronically recording juvenile interrogations in both felony and misdemeanor cases.

The number one thing kids say about why they falsely confess is that
'I just thought
I'd get to go home.'

- Eileen Hirsch,
assistant state public defender

The groundbreaking decision, which left some financially strapped police departments wondering how they will pay for additional recording equipment, was widely praised by attorneys, judges and others who said it would protect both children and police from false accusations.

"It's an excellent decision and long overdue," said John Birdsall, president of the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "It's going to be an adjustment for both the district attorneys and the police, but it is a welcome change."

Milwaukee County Children's Court Judges Mary Triggiano and Joseph Wall said the new requirement will help them get a clearer picture of the circumstances of juvenile confessions and could save court time.

"It will likely lead to pretrial resolutions of more cases because there may not be any dispute as to what happened" during the interrogation, Wall said.

The ruling says audiotaping is sufficient to meet the requirement, "but videotaping may provide an even more complete picture" of the interrogation.

The decision involved the case of a 14-year-old Milwaukee County boy who was found guilty in a May 2001 robbery at a fast-food restaurant. Court records state that he was arrested at his home and taken to a Milwaukee police station, where he was handcuffed to a wall in an interrogation room and left alone for about two hours.

The boy continually denied being involved in the crime and made several requests to call his parents, but was refused. After about 5 1/2 hours of interrogation, he signed a statement, prepared by one of the detectives, confessing to the crime.

The boy's appeal argued that his confession was involuntary. In Thursday's decision, the court found that the boy's confession had been coerced. It noted that his young age made him "uncommonly susceptible to police pressure" and that he was of "low-average" intelligence. While the boy had been arrested twice in the past for misdemeanors, in those cases he was released after he answered questions from police, was never found delinquent and was allowed to go home.

"Not only did the detectives refuse to believe (the boy's ) repeated denials of guilt, but they also joined in urging him to tell a different 'truth,' sometimes using a 'strong voice' that 'frightened' him," the decision says.

"It is time for Wisconsin to tackle the false confession issue and take appropriate action so that the youth of our state are protected from confessing to crimes they did not commit," the decision says.
Other confessions questioned

Thursday's case was not the first time the confession of a juvenile in Milwaukee County was challenged. In a decision earlier this year, Children's Court Judge Michael Malmstadt threw out the confession of a 14-year-old boy who was one of six suspects charged in the death of David Rutledge, 54, who was beaten by a gang of juveniles and adults in July 2004.

In his decision, Malmstadt noted that the child had no previous arrests and was questioned by police for close to 15 hours before he signed a confession, and that "the record is sparse with respect to the manner of the interrogation."

A hearing on whether the confession of a 13-year-old charged in the same case was valid is continuing. In that instance, the child had significant learning disabilities and was also questioned for at least 15 hours, according to motions filed by his attorney. Police have denied any misconduct or coercive acts in obtaining the confessions.

"The number one thing kids say about why they falsely confess is that 'I just thought I'd get to go home,' " said Eileen Hirsch, an assistant state public defender, who represented the boy in Thursday's Supreme Court decision.

"They are confessing to murders and armed robberies and other crimes, and we know that you are never going to go home after you do that," Hirsch said. "But they don't know that because they are kids. They believe that the only way they are going to go home is if they agree with the authority figures."

Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann called the Supreme Court decision reasonable, but added that he was concerned about the impact on the high volume of misdemeanor cases.

"Say a kid is taking stones to knock out street lamps," he said. "That's generally a misdemeanor offense. The cop catches him. 'What are you doing here?' Do you tell him to remain quiet until he gets to the police station? It definitely creates problems."

Recording is required in all future cases "where feasible, and without exception when questioning occurs in a place of detention," the ruling says.
Police agencies react

Milwaukee police commanders met to discuss the decision Thursday afternoon and figure out what the department needs to do to comply with the order, said police spokeswoman Anne E. Schwartz.

The department currently does not tape any interrogations, which are done in several locations, she said.

"We need to come up with a stopgap until we acquire the appropriate equipment," she said. "We are coming up with a plan."

Waukesha police Capt. Mike Babe called the decision an unfunded mandate.

"It's going to involve more time and more money. And who's paying for it? It's going to be the taxpayers," Babe said.

State Rep. Mark Gundrum (R-New Berlin) said he plans to introduce legislation later this year that would encourage recording of both juvenile and adult interrogations by requiring that juries be told it is state policy to record such interrogations. The bill also would provide money for equipment from fines paid by criminals.

Dave Sheeley and John Diedrich of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

From the July 8, 2005, editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel