Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 27, 2013

New law requires recordings of felony interrogations

BY MATT TROUTMAN mtroutman@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — KALKASKA — Sheriff David Israel’s deputies regularly make audio recordings during interviews with suspects, but he said a new state law may require the department to buy and use video cameras for major cases.

A bill signed by Gov. Rick Snyder takes effect Thursday and requires audiovisual recordings to be made during “custodial interrogations” of felony investigations in which a conviction would lead to at least 20 years in prison.

Many local law enforcement agencies already follow that practice, but the Kalkaska County Sheriff’s Department and others may need to upgrade their equipment if they don’t make video recordings.

Noelle Moeggenberg, Grand Traverse County’s chief assistant prosecutor, said the law represents no real change for its agencies. For example, Traverse City Police Department interview rooms were outfitted for audio and visual recording three years ago.

“It’s something this office has wanted and agencies have been doing ... especially in major felonies,” Moeggenberg said.

Likewise, Benzie County Sheriff Ted Schendel said his department routinely makes video recordings, including for investigations it assists with or leads in Frankfort and other smaller communities.

The law recognizes smaller departments may not have money to purchase equipment necessary to make a time-stamped, audiovisual record of an entire interrogation. It requires the Commission on Law Enforcement Standards to submit regular reports on equipment costs, which will be given to the legislature to appropriate necessary funds.

Israel initially worried about project funding, but said he believes the law will benefit both defendants and law enforcement.

Shelli Weisberg, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, agreed and said passage of the legislation first introduced six years ago was a “long time coming.”

“We would like to see all interrogations recorded, so it’s a good first step,” she said.

Weisberg said videotaped interrogations are good policy because they allow for review of interrogations when a suspect claims police coercion or brutality.

Traverse City Police Capt. Brian Heffner said knowing the full context of a suspect’s answer can be important when they are brought to trial.

“I think it protects both (investigators and suspects),” he said.

Weisberg hoped the state legislature would expand the law to other types of investigations, especially those involving the mentally ill or juveniles, as recording equipment becomes less expensive. And she contends the law has few teeth to make sure it is being followed.

If police fail to record an interrogation, jurors in the suspect’s trial would be instructed that it is Michigan law to do so and that they may consider that failure when evaluating evidence relating to the suspect’s statement.

“Hopefully, as ... recorded interrogations increase (they’ll) increase the teeth,” Weisberg said.