In yet another instance of police misconduct, the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin in an article by Juliet Linderman titled Baltimore Found to be Chicago’s Sister City Regarding Police Misconduct reports on a series of massive abuses spanning many years by number of officers in the Baltimore police department. The federal prosecutor charged seven police officers with variety of offenses including racketeering, participating in a drug conspiracy, falsely filing for overtime, falsely detaining people, stealing their money and property, searching private property without a warrant, and many more.
On February 15, 2017, the Washington Post reported on an incident inside Montgomery County Jail in Dayton, Ohio on yet another shocking occurrence of police misconduct. In a video released by an activist, a detainee Charles Wade is being pepper sprayed at point-blank range while fully restrained in a chair. Mr. Wade filed lawsuit.
The New York Times editorial titled Chicago’s Grim Era of Police Torture offers a window into a “grisly period from the 1970s to the 1990s when the Chicago Police Department’s infamous torture crew rounded up more than 100 African-American men” who were brutally tortured until they confessed.
The National Registry of Exonerations (“Registry”) marked 2013 as a record setting year for exonerations. As of August 2014, there were 91 known exonerations that occurred in 2013, bringing the total number to 1,427. According to the Registry, exonerations are only counted when the defendant is
declared to be factually innocent by a government official or agency with the authority to make that declaration;” or the defendant is “relieved of all the consequences of the criminal conviction by a government official or body with the authority to take that action.
Notably, the Registry continues to report a stark rise in exonerations based upon a post-trial finding that the defendant was convicted of a crime that did not occur. In such instances, a person is “convicted of a crime that did not occur, either because an accident or a suicide was mistaken for a crime, or because the exoneree was accused of a fabricated crime that never happened.” The Registry reports that almost one third of the 2013 exonerations were in cases in which no crime occurred. To date, a number of “crime-less” cases have already been reported for 2014. Many of the recent “crime-less” exonerations involved child abuse prosecutions, which were overturned due to improper police interrogation techniques when questioning minors, and/or the prosecution’s reliance upon suspect medical evidence.
Unfortunately, there are many obstacles to re-investigating and presenting a “crime-less case” for review, since such cases are generally based upon circumstantial evidence. The Registry reported that a majority of reported “no-crime” convictions resulted from the prosecution’s presentation of false testimony, and its unfettered reliance on cooperators, informants, and rogue police officers. Other no-crime convictions resulted from the prosecutions reliance on faulty scientific evidence, which incorrectly determined instances of arson and/or murder.
Earlier this year, Professor Samuel Gross of Michigan University School of Law noted that “these cases used to be very uncommon, as they are extremely hard to prove,” given that “there’s no DNA to prove someone else guilty, and no alternative confession to draw upon.” However, Professor Gross explained that the recent rise in crime-less exonerations is a hopeful sign that “prosecutors and judges have become more sensitive to the dangers of false accusations and are more willing to consider that a person is innocent even where this is no DNA to test or an alternative perpetrator coming forward.”
- Ed Pilkington, Record Number of People Exonerated of Crimes in US in 2013, The Guardian (Feb. 4, 2014).
The Justice Department has announced a new policy that will require federal law enforcement agencies to electronically record interviews with suspects. According to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.,
Creating an electronic record will ensure that we have an objective account of key investigations and interactions with people who are held in federal custody. It will allow us to document that detained individuals are afforded their constitutionally protected rights.
The new policy will require federal law enforcement agencies to record interactions with a detained suspect during the time between the suspect’s arrest and initial appearance before a judge. Notably, the new policy also suggests that officials should consider using electronic recording devices during other investigative situations, including witness interviews.
This is a stark change from the Department’s prior policy, which expressively prohibited the use of recording equipment by law enforcement agencies when conducting interviews with suspects. The Justice Department was previously concerned that the use of recording devices would undermine investigative techniques of federal agencies, and would discourage suspects from talking. The Department also once expressed that jurors may frown upon FBI interviewing techniques, and have “unfavorable impressions of agents” had they heard verbatim accounts of such interrogations.
Mr. Holder discounted these concerns, explaining that federal officials should be more committed to a process that exemplifies evenhanded enforcement of the law, and the new policy would “provide verifiable evidence that our words are matched by our deeds.” He noted that it is of great importance for federal agencies to ensure that the statements of suspects are accurately recorded, and that suspects are afforded their constitutional rights during interrogations with federal agents.
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers President Jerry J. Cox was pleased to hear about the Justice Department’s policy change, noting that the use of electronic recording during interviews
protects the accused against police misconduct, protects law enforcement against false allegations, and protects public safety by ensuring a verbatim record of the interrogation process and any statements.
Mr. Holder has already begun the implementation of the new policy, and has instructed United States attorneys and agency field offices to begin training sessions. As of July, the new policy will apply to the FBI, DEA, ATF and U.S. Marshals Service.
- Michael S. Schmidt, In Policy Change, Justice Dept. to Require Recording of Interrogations, New York Times (May 22, 2014).
- Ryan J. Reily, Eric Holder: ‘Sweeping’ New FBI Recording Policy Will Protect Both Suspects, Agents, Huffington Post (May 22, 2014).
- Dennis Wagner, DOJ Reverses No-Recording Policy for Interrogations, USA Today (May 21, 2014).