New law now requires police to record interrogations for serious crimes

Photo courtesy of the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services

A new law supported by the New York State Bar Association has taken effect, requiring law enforcement agencies to video record custodial interrogations of those accused of serious crimes.

The law (S.4791/A.3964), originally passed as part of a criminal justice reform package in last year’s budget, went into effect on April 1 of this year.

“Recording interrogations can be critical in helping convict the guilty, free the wrongly accused and uphold faith and confidence in our criminal justice system,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said of the new law. “I’m proud that this hard-fought reform is now in effect, bringing us one step closer to a more fair and more just New York for all.”

Custodial interrogations are defined as questioning by a law enforcement officer which is likely to elicit an incriminating response from an individual and occurs when reasonable individuals in the same circumstances would consider themselves in custody.

Serious crimes, under this law, include homicide and sexual assault and do not include drug related crimes.

“The State Bar Association’s House of Delegates approved a resolution calling for legislation on this issue in 2004, and then we spent years working with legislators, district attorneys, advocates and the executive to make it a reality,” said Bar Association President-Elect Michael Miller, who was president of the New York County Lawyers Association at the time and introduced the resolution.

As of April 1, failure to record interrogations at police stations, correctional facilities, prosecutor’s offices and similar holding areas could result in a court determining that a confession is inadmissible.

Recording ensures the integrity of the fact-finding process and ensures that admissions made were not obtained by coercion or intimidation. The law, its supporters say, will also improve the overall quality of police interrogations by making monitoring by supervisors easier and training more efficient.

In January of this year, the governor announced more than $650,000 in grants to help 28 local law enforcement agencies in 23 counties either purchase recording equipment to conduct video interrogations or replace existing systems that are either faltering or in need of upgrade.

The funding was meant to help those agencies — including 14 recipients that had not previously received the grant — comply with the new law.

“This measure supports fundamental fairness and justice for all New Yorkers by helping both to prevent unjustified prosecutions or wrongful convictions and to secure convictions of those who have committed crimes,” said Bar Association President Sharon Stern Gerstman.