Bill Would Require Recording of Interrogations

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Prosecutors would be required to notify the defense of an intention to introduce an unrecorded statement in court and of the exception that permitted the lack of recording.

DOVER (DE) CONTRIBUTED BY DHD: Continuing their efforts to reform Delaware’s criminal justice system and improve policing throughout the state, lawmakers introduced a measure Thursday that would increase transparency and accountability when a suspect is being questioned by law enforcement.

The bill is part of the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus’ Justice for All Agenda, a series of legislative priorities to address systemic racial injustice and police brutality unveiled in June 2020 in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and other prominent deaths involving Black Americans.

Sponsored by Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown, House Bill 215 would require law enforcement to electronically record custodial interrogations when they relate to a crime allegedly committed by an adult or a delinquent act allegedly committed by a child. The recording could be audio or video and audio, depending on the equipment available at the interrogation site.

“Interrogations are a critical component of the law enforcement process, but too often, there are questions about what actually was said or what happened in that room,” said Rep. Minor-Brown, D-New Castle South. “Much like body cameras, taping interrogations will provide an accurate record of what happened. It will increase transparency and accountability, but it will also provide protection for both the person being questioned and the officers conducting the interrogation. It will reduce false accusations and help restore trust in the process.”

Under HB 215, there would be limited exceptions to this rule, including exigent (pressing) circumstances, a person refusing to be recorded, or if the recording would reveal a confidential informant’s identity or jeopardize the safety of the officer, the individual interrogated, or another individual.

“This legislation will protect both defendants and police from false accusations by requiring an accurate and impartial recording of what transpires behind closed doors,” said Sen. Marie Pinkney, the Senate prime sponsor of HB 215. “If we hope to restore trust in our criminal justice system, we must be willing to eliminate secrecy, innuendo and ambiguity from the equation. This legislation is a major step forward in that effort and one that will benefit all parties involved in police interrogations.”

Prosecutors would be required to notify the defense of an intention to introduce an unrecorded statement in court and of the exception that permitted the lack of recording. Under the bill, the prosecution would be required to prove, through clear and convincing evidence, that an exception applies.

HB 215, which was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, would take effect six months after it is signed into law.

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