Deceptive Interrogation Tactics Called into Question by WA House Bill

Across the country, nine states have passed laws to prohibit law enforcement from using deceptive tactics when interrogating juveniles. But now a new bill in the state of Washington is looking at extending this to all defendants. House Bill 1062 would make defendants’ statements inadmissible in court whenever police have used deceptive tactics in relation to getting those statements in an interview.

About Washington House Bill 1062

The Washington State House has given House Bill 1062 two hearings this legislative session. Time will tell whether this bill will become law, and there are strong arguments both in support and opposition of the bill.

James McMahan is the policy director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. He argued in public testimony that deception is required by law enforcement to get to the truth of a case. He calls it “an unfortunate reality of law enforcement,” and used an example of having an undercover trooper posing as a minor when working on a case. We wouldn’t tell the suspect the true age and identity of that police officer when we’re on a case involving the exploitation of children.

Proponents of House Bill 1062 argue that the current methods for conducting police interrogations open the door for power imbalances between law enforcement and citizens. They cite instances of false confessions and wrongful convictions, and say that doing away with deceptive tactics can help protect the innocent. They also argue that the bill can help build trust between the public and law enforcement, while others insist that taking away deceptive tactics can compromise police effectiveness for solving cases.

Faulty Evidence and False Confessions

The difference between deception in interrogations and coercion has long been debated. House Bill 1062 is just another example of how communities are reckoning with police tactics. The Washington Innocence Project has data to show that 23% of exonerations in the state of Washington involve false confessions. But the number could be even higher, depending on how many wrongful convictions actually happen in the state.

Everyone who wants to uphold justice wants to avoid wrongful convictions. Unfortunately, faulty evidence and a trend of making people “fit the evidence” rather than scrutinize the evidence in more detail can lead to trouble in the courtroom. After all, a confession is one of the most compelling pieces of evidence that the jury can review.

The Imperative to Record Interview Evidence

Thurston County Sheriff Derick Sanders argues that police tactics are always under critical review. He also states that there are procedures in place already to dispute false confessions. These are called criminal rule 3.5 hearings, and they allow for defendants to have evidence dismissed if they assert police lied inappropriately.

In order to keep such hearings productive, though, and to honor the legitimacy of any police interrogation, recording conversations is critical. Agencies that are equipped with the right recording technology can help reduce wrongful convictions and increase accountability.

Advocates of WA House Bill 1062 are hoping to raise the professionalism of law enforcement. But it’s important to realize that recording interviews—whether they’re taking place in the back of a patrol car or in an interrogation room—is a critical part of the investigative process too. It’s just a matter of getting the right interview recording policies in place. Then the court can have even more accurate evidence to review.

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