Defense lawyers are urging the New Jersey Supreme Court to require confessions to be recorded electronically, particularly in homicide cases. The Newark Star-Ledger says such a could have a dramatic effect on the way police deal with suspects. “The NFL has instant replay. What’s goes on here (in a criminal court) is more important than what goes on in the Meadowlands,” said Marcia Blum, a public defender representing Thomahl Cook.
Cook, 30, of Somerville, N.J., is serving a 30-year sentence for the 1998, murder of Katrina Suhan, a 15-year-old South Amboy girl killed after leaving a skating rink to walk home. Blum wants the court to overturn the conviction, in part because police testimony that Cook confessed was not backed up by a tape recording, a signed statement or any other records. Requiring police to tape-record interviews would enhance professionalism, increase the reliability of confessions, and give judges and jurors higher quality evidence, Blum told the court yesterday.
Paul Heinzel, a deputy attorney general, said such a rule would be costly in a state with 400,000 arrests, and that it would cause many suspects not to talk. Heinzel said defense lawyers had failed to make “a showing to justify this radical systemic overall.” Justice James Zazzali said the facts of the Cook case may be enough to convince the court there is a need for a change. He noted the defendant was held in custody for 30 hours, interrogated for 15 hours — yet there are no electronic records and no written confession, and the police notes were thrown away. “It gets very disturbing,” Zazzali said.
Courts in Alaska and Minnesota have required police to tape-record confessions. Ihe Illinois Legislature adopted a law imposing a similar rule on police in that state. Some local police agencies have voluntarily decided to tape-record confessions.