I've been a police officer for 25 years, and I never understood why someone would admit to a crime he or she didn't commit. Until I secured a false confession in a murder case.
I stepped into the interrogation room believing that we had evidence linking the suspect to the murder of a 34-year-old federal employee in Washington. I used standard, approved interrogation techniques -- no screaming or threats, no physical abuse, no 12-hour sessions without food or water. Many hours later, I left with a solid confession.
At first, the suspect couldn't tell us anything about the murder, and she professed her innocence. As the interrogation progressed, she became more cooperative, and her confession included many details of the crime. The suspect said she had beaten the man to death and dumped his body by a river. She said she made purchases with the victim's credit card and tried to withdraw cash using his ATM card. Surveillance video from the ATM showed a woman who resembled the suspect, and an expert said the signature on the credit card receipts was consistent with the suspect's handwriting.
More than 500 jurisdictions nationwide record interrogations, but only 10 states, plus the District of Columbia, mandate the practice. California's Legislature passed bills in 2006 and 2007 that would have required interrogations to be recorded. Both were vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. A third bill died in committee this year. California legislators should not give up. They must make this issue a priority and pass legislation to make our criminal justice system stronger and more accurate.
It is very unlikely that at the age of 59 I will find myself looking at a unfriendly police interogation for the first time but if so I will lawyer up right away.