innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Friday, July 28, 2006

DNA Now Collected from Arrestees

This article appeared on the stateline website on Thursday, July 27, 2006

States collecting DNA from arrestees

By John Gramlich, Special to Stateline.org

With civil libertarians crying foul, seven states have authorized police to take DNA samples from those arrested for – but not convicted of – certain crimes.

Every state takes DNA samples from convicted sex offenders and at least 43 states take samples from other serious felons, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks state laws. But five states – California, Louisiana, Minnesota, Texas and Virginia – now take DNA samples from some arrestees as well.

Kansas and New Mexico passed authorizing legislation this spring and will begin arrestee sampling next January.

Officers commonly take the samples by using cotton swabs to collect saliva. The samples are used to try to solve “cold cases” by comparing them to biological evidence found at crime scenes. DNA profiles, or computerized snapshots of the samples, are stored in local, state and federal databases, allowing law enforcers to compare information.

Last January, President Bush signed the DNA Fingerprinting Act, which allows authorities to collect DNA “fingerprints,” or samples, from anyone arrested on any federal charge. Federal sampling has not yet begun, said Ann Todd, a spokeswoman for the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va., home of the national DNA database.

In every state but Louisiana, arrestee DNA sampling is limited to those arrested for felonies. The Bayou State, however, also allows sampling of those arrested for some misdemeanors, including prostitution and assault.

California, Louisiana, Kansas and New Mexico and the federal government can keep DNA records even if arrestees are cleared of all charges – a practice that has brought objections from civil libertarians.

Led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), critics say the state and federal laws reverse constitutional guarantees and render suspects guilty until proven innocent.

Supporters say the aim is to develop a network of shared information to fight crime nationwide. DNA sampling of convicted felons has been used to aid thousands of investigations, according to a state-by-state clickable map maintained by the FBI.

DNA evidence has also been used to exonerate those who have been wrongly convicted. Nationwide, more than 180 people have been freed with the help of DNA evidence since 1989, according to the Innocence Project, a legal clinic based in New York.

Of those, 14 originally were sentenced to death.

In Virginia, one of the few states to release records of arrestee “hits,” or DNA matches, law enforcement officials found 288 matches that have helped crime investigations since the program began in January 2003, said Paul Ferrara, director of the state’s Department of Forensic Science. Fifty-nine of those were associated with sexual crimes, he said.
Although federal arrestee DNA sampling has not yet begun, enactment of the DNA Fingerprinting Act allows the five states already taking DNA samples of arrestees to begin uploading profiles into the national database.

In late June, Virginia became the first state to begin uploading profiles, sending data on about 4,000 arrestees. Louisiana followed on July 11, uploading the first 14,000 of an initial 45,000 arrestee profiles.

Civil libertarians oppose placing the burden of destroying DNA records on a defendant who has been acquitted, rather than the government. California, Louisiana, New Mexico and federal arrestees who are acquitted must request that their samples and profiles be removed from labs and databases. Usually, those acquitted must provide written notification, sometimes including a certified court order, to have the records destroyed.

Kansas is the only state that refuses to destroy all DNA records of those who have been acquitted.

Minnesota, Texas and Virginia automatically delete samples and profiles when arrestees are cleared of charges.

Joe Cook, executive director of the Louisiana ACLU, said there is “no reason” for states to keep DNA samples after acquittal. The practice turns arrestees into “a suspect every time a crime is committed,” he said.

Civil libertarians want DNA samples to be treated differently from fingerprints. Cook said DNA contains sensitive personal information, including medical and racial indicators that can be used to illegally profile suspects.

“The potential for abuse is great,” Cook said.

Kansas state Rep. Pat Colloton (R), who authored the bill that initiated her state’s DNA sampling program, said she expects crime rates to decrease as a result of the legislation. But she also anticipates legal challenges to arrestee sampling across the country.

“I do believe this issue will go to the United States Supreme Court,” Colloton said.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

California Prison Pharmacy Overhaul

This article by Jenifer Warren origianlly ran on July 27, 2006 in the L.A. Times:

SAN FRANCISCO — The pharmacies in California prisons are so poorly run and dangerous to inmates' health that they must be seized from the state and placed under private management, the federal receiver in charge of prison healthcare told a judge here Wednesday.U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson seemed more than ready to take such a step and welcomed a second proposal aired at a morning hearing — that he double the pay of prison pharmacists and dramatically increase salaries for other prison healthcare employees.

"It is time for action, and action you will take," Henderson told Robert Sillen, the receiver, after auditors described a chaotic pharmacy operation that has harmed inmates and squandered millions of taxpayer dollars.

On a related issue, Sillen said he is calling on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislators to build hospitals for inmates, instead of the two new prisons the governor has proposed to ease severe overcrowding behind bars.

Shifting incapacitated, terminally ill and other sick inmates to hospital beds would thin the incarcerated population, Sillen said in a letter outlining his proposal, and ensure that ailing prisoners get the care they are not getting now.

"Why spend the money twice?" said Sillen, who assumed his post in April. "The receivership plans to fill the need for medical facilities regardless" of whether the state decides to collaborate.Sillen said he would discuss his hospital proposal for at least 1,200 beds at three facilities in the state next week with Schwarzenegger, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles) and Senate leader Don Perata (D-Oakland).

Schwarzenegger's communications director, Adam Mendelsohn, said the governor welcomed the chance to talk as the special session he called on corrections, scheduled for next month, approaches."

The governor called the special session because there needs to be a serious dialogue about what changes need to occur in the prison system," Mendelsohn said. "It's the governor's belief that we must address overcrowding, and there are a variety of alternatives … which deserve discussion."

As for Sillen's proposal to hire a private firm to manage prison pharmacies, a lawyer for the state said the Schwarzenegger administration backs the idea. He said state officials would help Sillen expedite the contracting process, which normally takes from four to seven months.At the hearing, auditors who studied the pharmacy operation presented their findings to Henderson, who appointed Sillen to run prison healthcare after concluding the state was incapable of fixing it.

Pharmacies were an early focus of the receivership, Sillen said, because medications are expensive and, if improperly dispensed, can be harmful to inmates.In addition, four previous audits had highlighted serious problems — and had been all but ignored by the state, Sillen said.

Overall, the auditors said they found a disorganized, poorly supervised system that put patients at great risk of medical error and wasted tens of millions of dollars. Analyzing purchasing data from last year, for example, the auditors concluded that nearly a third of the medications the state bought for inmates were never recorded as dispensed or accounted for in any way — a disparity they called shocking.

The team also found that California pays four times more for pharmaceuticals than two equivalent correctional systems: Texas' system and the federal Bureau of Prisons. That means that California's prison drug costs were as much as $80 million higher last year than costs at those systems.

Although hiring a private management team will cost money up front — Sillen could not estimate how much — he said it would save vast sums in the long run by improving inventory control and other deficiencies.The same is true, he said, of the salary increases for the state's 56 prison pharmacists, who now earn from $60,708 to $126,240 annually — about half what they could earn in the private sector, Sillen said. The low pay is one reason the prisons are struggling with a 43% vacancy rate for pharmacists, Sillen said.

To compensate for the vacancies, the state has relied heavily on private firms that supply contract pharmacists at higher rates — and also collect a fee."The bottom line is that all clinical staff in the prisons are grossly underpaid," Sillen said, "and we're going to fix that."Attorneys representing state prisoners, whose class-action lawsuit over healthcare led to the receivership, applauded the plan."

The state has 170,000 prisoners to care for, and they just have not been able to compete in the market for scarce healthcare providers," said Donald Specter of the nonprofit Prison Law Office. "If the state is going to imprison that many people, it's going to have pay very dearly to meet constitutional standards for healthcare.

''Sillen told Henderson he would return within one month with a proposed pharmacy management contract and an outline of salary increases.The judge, noting that it boggled his mind that California incurred $80 million in unnecessary pharmaceutical costs last year, said he would "act as forcefully as the judicial branch can act" to remedy the problem.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

White House Bill Proposes System To Try Detainees

This article originally ran in the New York Times on July 26, 2006:

By DAVID S. CLOUD and SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
Published: July 26, 2006
WASHINGTON, July 25 — Legislation drafted by the Bush administration setting out new rules on bringing terror detainees to trial would allow hearsay evidence to be introduced unless it was deemed “unreliable” and would permit defendants to be excluded from their own trials if necessary to protect national security, according to a copy of the proposal.
The bill, which officials said was being circulated within the administration, is not final, but it indicates the direction of the administration’s approach for dealing with a Supreme Court decision that struck down the tribunals established to try terror suspects at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The 32-page bill preserves the idea of using military commissions to prosecute terror suspects and makes modest changes in their procedural rules, including several expanded protections for defendants, many of them drawn from the military’s legal code. But the proposal also sets up a possible confrontation with lawmakers who have called for modeling the trials on the military’s rules for courts-martial, which would allow defendants more rights.

The draft measure describes court-martial procedure as “not practicable in trying enemy combatants” because doing so would “require the government to share classified information” and would exclude “hearsay evidence determined to be probative and reliable.”
President Bush reviewed the bill last week in a meeting with his top advisers, according to a senior White House official, who said the advisers told Mr. Bush that they were comfortable with the bill and were ready to present it to military lawyers.

When the legislation is in its final form, the administration will have to ask a member of Congress to introduce it.

The White House would not comment on the specifics of the bill.
“We are in the middle of a process of getting reaction from the various stakeholders, and that is why we circulated a draft,” said Dana Perino, a deputy White House press secretary. “We are working to strike a balance of a fair system of justice that deals with terrorists who don’t recognize the rules of war.”

But one former White House official, granted anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said the administration was circulating the measure among military lawyers at the Pentagon with the intention of winning over Republican senators who have led the calls for using court-martial procedures, including Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a former military lawyer.

For the whole story click here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Investigation of Possible Wrongful Execution Raises Bias Accusations

This article ran in the Houston Chronicle on Sunday, July 23, 2006.

Candid phone calls cast doubt on Cantu reviewInvestigators are heard mocking the claim of wrongful execution, but DA denies any bias

By LISE OLSEN and MARO ROBBINS
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle AND San Antonio Express-News

SAN ANTONIO - The Bexar County district attorney's investigation into a possibly wrongful execution had barely started earlier this year, but already DA investigators were scoffing at the three witnesses who contend Texas sent an innocent man named Ruben Cantu to his death.

"They're lying. They're all lying, and they know they're lying," Mike Beers, the senior DA investigator, told the retired sergeant who drove the homicide investigation against Cantu and whose actions, along with other officers in that case, are under review by the DA's office.

That was in February, before DA investigators had spoken with two of the three witnesses who say Cantu was innocent. By March, another top investigator was forecasting the outcome:
"It's going to go forward with the fact that it was justified and everything was correct, and that's the way it is," James Moore, one of the primary DA investigators on the case, told Bill Ewell, the retired sergeant, on a routinely recorded phone line March 7.

Obtained through a public-records request, these recorded conversations open a window into one of the highest-profile and politically polarizing investigations under way in Texas, a review of allegations that the state made a mistake when it executed Cantu for a 1984 robbery and murder.

Both DA investigators ridicule the case and openly mock the notion that Cantu might have been innocent. They describe the witnesses as liars and bastards; one dismisses the possibility of a future wrongful-execution lawsuit as "chicken shit."

Together, the recorded statements stand in contrast to public assurances that the Bexar County DA's Office will fully and fairly examine assertions that Cantu played no part in the 1984 robbery that left one man dead and another bleeding from nearly a dozen wounds.

A spokesman for District Attorney Susan Reed characterized the conversations as harmless "shop talk" and speculation, sprinkled with the salty language of tough cops. First Assistant District Attorney Cliff Herberg said any doubts about the case are natural, because two of the witness who vouch for Cantu are ex-convicts and liars.

Herberg said the investigators did not disclose any confidential information or violate ethical rules and would not be disciplined. Yet, he did say he regretted the remarks had been made on a publicly recorded telephone line because they could imply that his office had "prejudged the case."

"We want people to have confidence in the integrity of the investigation. This obviously does not help that," Herberg said. "But all of the people that are involved are professionals ... and they will do the job that needs to be done to the best of their ability regardless of what their personal opinions may be."

Several ethicists and lawyers asked to review the information are more skeptical.

"I do think (the DA) needs to determine whether or not the lead investigators have done a good job, based on these phone calls. Because it sounds to me that this important team has prejudged the case," said Linda Eads, an ethicist and former prosecutor who is chairwoman of the professional disciplinary rules committee for the State Bar of Texas.

Investigators Beers and Moore work under the direction of Herberg and other attorneys in the DA's office. Through Herberg, both refused to comment but stressed they had done nothing improper. Herberg quoted Moore as saying: "There is no conspiracy by us to cover up any actions by anybody." Ewell, through an attorney, also declined to comment.

At the time of the conversations, Ewell served as police chief for the North East Independent School District, which routinely records calls on its police-department phone line. Ewell, who is now retired from the school district as well as the San Antonio Police Department, is not the target of any criminal investigation, Herberg said, though the actions of officers involved in the Cantu case are under review.

'They're all lying'In 1985, it was Ewell and his detectives who, on the third attempt, obtained the key evidence against Cantu, an eyewitness identification from the lone surviving victim of the robbery, a witness who now says police pressured him to identify Cantu.

Reed reopened the case in December after the Houston Chronicle published wrongful-execution claims made by the shooting victim, along with Cantu's convicted co-defendant and a potential alibi witness who says Cantu was in Waco stealing cars about the time of the murder.

Reed testified in June that she hadn't formed any conclusions, but months earlier, her senior investigator already had given his opinion.

"They're all lying," said Beers, the DA's senior investigator, in that February phone conversation.

"Yeah, I think so. I mean I know so," Ewell replied. "But, I mean, I hope the DA knows that."

"Oh yeah," Beers assured him. "All they're just trying to show is that ... the case was handled ethically and it was done correctly."

A month later, Moore, the head investigator in the DA's white-collar-crime section, gave Ewell information and advice.

In one conversation, Moore, who informally interviewed Cantu's co-defendant David Garza, dismissed Garza with an expletive. In another call, he predicted the investigation would prove everything was "justified" and "correct."

In an interview, Herberg, the first assistant district attorney, said that he understood Moore's dislike of Garza, a convicted felon who through the years has flip-flopped about what happened the night of the murder. But Herberg said Moore's "forward looking" and "optimistic" prediction about the case was premature and did not reflect his bosses' views.

"We're not ready to make that kind of statement," Herberg said.

Legal experts and attorneys for the witnesses have challenged the DA's objectivity in the case because in her previous job as judge, Reed denied one of Cantu's appeals and set his execution date. But no one has previously questioned the staff's conduct in the case.

Beers is a former motorcycle cop and mayoral driver who joined the SAPD in 1969, two years after Ewell. The former colleagues occasionally lunch together, according to the taped conversations.

Five days after his formal interview with the DA's office about the Cantu execution, Ewell invited Beers to lunch. Ewell told his friend he wanted "to see what you've heard."

Beers oversees all DA investigators but has played only a minor role in the Cantu review — retrieving some documents — and would know only what he read in the newspaper or heard around the office, according to Herberg. Still, when Ewell worried aloud about whether the Cantu case might later result in a wrongful-death lawsuit, Beers replied:
"That just tells me a whole lot about people like that. Y'know, just money-hungry sorry bastards."

Police not suspectsMoore had been the one who formally interviewed Ewell for the Cantu investigation Feb. 1. After that, Moore talked with Ewell on the phone several times.
On March 28, Ewell had a question for Moore.

"Am I being investigated, or what are we doing here? That's, that's my concern," Ewell said. "Does the DA's office think that I'm guilty of some wrongdoing?"

"No," Moore said. "Not that I'm aware of, no."

Later, Moore added , "There's no investigation by us ... or anybody else that I'm aware of."

What Moore meant, Herberg said in an interview, is that the police officers are not suspects because the recanting eyewitness, Juan Moreno, who has not been interviewed by the DA's office since the case was reopened, has never publicly claimed that police did anything illegal.

But the DA has said Moreno could be prosecuted for the unusual crime of murder by perjury if he lied during Cantu's trial.

Ewell began contacting friends soon after the Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News published investigations about new innocence claims in the Cantu case in late November, recordings show. He called the outgoing SAPD chief, a couple of deputy chiefs and the former judge in the Cantu trial, Roy Barrera Jr., among others.

First of many conversationsEwell, who has refused to give an interview about his role in the Cantu case, gave his official sworn account to the DA's office Feb. 1.

The meeting introduced Ewell to Moore, who had joined the DA's office after years as an investigator with the state pharmacy board. Other calls followed.

In one conversation, Moore described his informal interview with Garza, one of the men who now claims Cantu was wrongly executed.

Garza was convicted at 15 of being Cantu's accomplice in the 1984 murder and robbery of a Mexican-born contractor. He originally pleaded not guilty, later entered a guilty plea on the robbery charge but never testified about the murder.

Last year, Garza signed a sworn statement saying Cantu was innocent and named another teen as the killer. But when the DA's team went to interview Garza, then in prison for an unrelated crime, he initially refused a lie-detector test, Moore told Ewell.

"We went down there and interviewed that little bastard," Moore, laughing, told Ewell. " ... He's very anti-death penalty."

In an interview, Herberg said he understood Moore's low opinion of Garza.

"David Garza is an admitted Mexican Mafia member. He's an admitted liar. He's an admitted participant in a capital murder. He's a three-time convicted felon," Herberg said. "What would you call him? I would not call him a Boy Scout."

Garza refused to cooperate with the DA's office when he was in prison because he claimed its investigators and prosecutors are biased.

Now out on parole, Garza gave an interview to the DA's office June 28 after having been summoned to testify in front of a grand jury.

In another March conversation, Moore called Ewell to give him a "heads-up" at Herberg's direction. A Chronicle reporter had requested the DA's file on the 1981 robbery in which Ewell and others arrested two innocent people.

Moore told Ewell that reporters were "trying to smear you ... is what it looks like, trying to ... raise a bunch of doubt and all this stuff."

"Well, how does Judge Reed feel about me?" Ewell asked.

Moore again reassured him. "She doesn't pay any attention to that."

Reed refused to be interviewed for this report through Herberg, her spokesman.

Defending the investigationInstead, Herberg offered a nuanced defense of the investigators in a two-and-a-half-hour interview about the recordings, which the newspapers provided for his review.

Herberg said he agreed with most of what the investigators said but described their remarks as idle speculation that doesn't warrant public airing. He also insisted that the investigation's outcome has not been predetermined even as he acknowledged that some in the office may have a bias toward Cantu's guilt.

The investigators also have another predisposition: They're reluctant to believe ex-cons who, presumably, aim to discredit or abolish the death penalty, he said.

"The problem with this article is it's going to make out this point that somehow this has been prejudged. ... We're looking at everything," Herberg stressed. "But we are adults, we do have a little experience here and didn't fall off the turnip truck yesterday."

He said officials have yet to speak to the most intriguing witness, Moreno. Unlike the others, Moreno isn't an ex-con. Instead, he's a shooting victim who visibly bears the scars of the attack and whose testimony put Cantu on death row.

In the recorded conversations, investigators also dismissed Moreno as a liar or speculated he'd been hoodwinked into recanting.

But Herberg insisted that no one's mind is made up.

"I hope, at least, the article conveys we understand the sensitivity of the investigation," he said.

"I wish these (recordings) were not public. I wish they had not occurred. But that said, the officers can do their job. And will do their job."

Monday, July 24, 2006

Recording Interrogations a Success in Minnesota

This article by Shannon Prather originally ran in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on July 17, 2006:

Eyes closed and head swaying, George Griller tells detectives he didn't kill the man police dug up in his back yard. I couldn't have, he claims, I'm blind. But when investigators leave the room, Griller opens his eyes, pulls a paper from his pocket and begins reading.

A video camera captures Griller's interrogation-room blunder. Jurors later convict him of second-degree murder.

In most states, prosecutors would never get their hands on such a tape. That's because it wouldn't have existed.

But police throughout Minnesota record in-custody interviews, a practice stemming from a 1994 state Supreme Court decision. At first, police and prosecutors lamented the ruling, predicting it would keep bad guys from confessing.

Now, more than a decade into mandated recording, those same critics are lauding the practice. Taped interrogations have not only proved valuable at trial, they have helped Minnesota authorities avoid accusations of forced confessions and investigative misconduct.

"It's the best tool shoved down our throats," said St. Paul police Cmdr. Neil Nelson. "We went kicking and screaming."

In the past year, videotaped interrogations have helped convict a 14-year-old school shooter from Cold Spring, a St. Paul cop killer and a 21-year-old thrill killer from Anoka.
Seven states and the District of Columbia, either by their supreme courts or by legislation, require some form of recording of in-custody interviews.

They are Alaska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Maine, New Mexico and Illinois. Other states, including California, are weighing similar requirements.

"I use Minnesota all the time as a shining example of how this reform is a win-win situation for both law enforcement and for the defense and the courts system," said Steven Drizin, legal director for Northwestern University School of Law's Center on Wrongful Convictions.

"A 12-year track of recording is one of our strongest arguments to other jurisdictions to get on board."

Jurors and judges no longer have to rely on written police reports of interrogations to decide tricky legal questions, disputes over what was said or allegations of coercion. They get to hear firsthand what defendants said often hours after the crime.

It's often not straight-out confessions that do defendants in. Even when suspects deny committing a crime, prosecutors can show jurors conflicting statements, stories that don't add up, and words and actions that are just plain incredible.

"It's more dramatic than anybody trying to explain to you how someone looks or acts," Nelson said. "I think it's been powerful for the juries."

One Minneapolis murder suspect notices blood on his shoes as he waits to be interviewed by police. The camera captures him trying to wipe the blood off and helps prosecutors win a conviction.

"It really does insure the jury has an accurate picture of what the suspect said and how he or she said it," said Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner. "Jurors want unfiltered reality and getting an audio tape or a video tape of what the defendant said right after the crime happens is really important to them."

In January, Gaertner played for jurors the interview of Harry Evans, on trial for the May 2005 killing of St. Paul police Sgt. Gerald Vick.

Evans, calmly smoking a cigarette, denied being involved in the shooting and told the officers they wouldn't find his DNA on the murder weapon. But crime lab scientists did find DNA matching Evans on the gun, sealing his first-degree murder conviction.

"The bottom line is everyone wants justice," said Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar. "We want to convict the guilty and protect the innocent. Any tool that helps us in that way is a good tool."

Klobuchar has spoken to prosecutors and police across the country about the benefits of recording interrogations. She's even put together a highlight tape of sorts showing how suspects sunk themselves during police interviews.

Nelson said taping interrogations has improved perceptions about how police handle suspects and has helped officers figure out what works and what doesn't in the interrogation room.

"It's raised the veil of mystery of what happens in that interview room," Nelson said. Last spring, jurors watched the video of Joshua Krueth confessing to the September 2004 thrill killing of a Coon Rapids man.

Krueth led Anoka County sheriff's investigators to the murder weapon, a rifle buried in a guitar case in a park. Krueth's defense attorney unsuccessfully tried to have the confession thrown out, arguing that Krueth was high on methamphetamines and later recanted.

"It was a key piece of evidence," Anoka County Sheriff Capt. Rob Bredsten said of the video. "It not only showed what he was saying and pointed us to the murder weapon, it showed he was lucid at the time of the statement and not under the influence of drugs."

In 2003, freshman John Jason McLaughlin confessed hours after he gunned down a classmate and fatally wounded another student at Rocori High School. During the interview, the investigator repeatedly asks the teen if he wants to speak with his parents. He reads the suspect his Miranda rights twice. Prosecutors relied on the video at trial to show that McLaughlin wasn't mentally ill at the time of the shootings.

State Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson said the interrogation tapes are valuable during the appeals process.

"It has significantly reduced the number of challenges on appeal based on deficiencies or failures to give Miranda warnings. In the past you have interrogations and there was always a question of Miranda warnings," Anderson said. "When it's right on the tape, it's pretty hard to deny it's been given. It's hard to refute the evidence on the tape."

When the Supreme Court ruled that police must honor juvenile suspects' requests for their parents, justices relied on a tape and transcript of an interrogation where a teen suspect asked police to speak to his mother 13 times.

"It's the best tool that we've got to prevent false confessions," said Julie Jonas, managing attorney for the Innocence Project of Minnesota. "It absolutely levels the playing field in preventing coerced confessions and outright lies by police."

Thomas Sullivan, a former U.S. attorney in Illinois, lobbies police, prosecutors and legislatures across the country about the benefits of recording interrogations. He said while nearly 500 police departments across the country voluntarily record some interviews, only a handful of states require it by court order or statute.

Sullivan said Minnesota's success story bolsters his cause. He is now lobbying federal agencies to record interrogations.

"It was very helpful to me to talk to people up in Minnesota where I knew I had an audience that would say, 'Yes, I record, and here's our experience.' "

In cases of false confessions, police often provide details of the crime and the suspect, worn down by hours of questioning, then parrots the information provided by officers, said Drizin, of Northwestern. A recording allows judges and jurors to see what information a suspect has volunteered and what police might have let slip.

Drizin argues that as the public becomes more technology savvy, it demands recording.

"It's commonly understood that law enforcement is using cameras to capture our moves," Drizin said. "Jurors have a hard time accepting their refusal to use it in the privacy of an interrogation room."