Grits for Breakfast
Yesterday I testified on behalf of the Innocence Project of Texas in support of Rep. Terry Canales' HB 1096 requiring recording of custodial police investigations, which is one of the outstanding recommendations of the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions the Legislature has not yet acted upon. Rodney Ellis is carrying the companion bill in the Senate.
Nationally, false confessions occurred in about 25% of cases resulting in DNA exonerations. (Notably, causes of false convictions can overlap: Someone misidentified by an eyewitness may plea guilty to avoid a harsher sentence or the death penalty.) While most DNA exonerations involved sexual assault cases, however, false confessions were particularly prevalent in murder cases, which account for 75% of false confessions listed in the National Exoneration Registry.
The legislation protects both innocent defendants as well as protecting law enforcement from false accusations. It also generates better evidence for prosecutors and avoids spurious suppression hearings over alleged coercion.
Texas has had a number of high-profile cases involving false confessions, including the Yogurt Shop murders (where dozens of people falsely confessed), Christopher Ochoa (who falsely implicated an innocent co-defendant, Richard Danziger), and Stephen Brodie, a deaf man exonerated last year after 17 years behind bars for a murder he didn't commit for a 1992 sexual assault conviction. Texas law requires recording of oral confessions already, but not of the interrogation leading up to it. So a statement may be recorded saying "I did it," but if the jury can't see the hours-long discussions that led up to it, they've little context for understanding whether a false confession was likely.