Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series
20 Pages Posted: 5 Sep 2014 Last revised: 24 Jul 2018
Date Written: September 7, 2014
Despite growing concern regarding the problem of false confessions, including due to high profile DNA and death row exonerations, far too little is known about police interrogations in practice, including the written procedures that govern interrogations. This Essay provides a first study of police interrogation policies, focusing on written policies adopted by Virginia law enforcement agencies. Reviewing FOIA responses from over 180 agencies, the study found that few agencies require recording of entire interrogations as a matter of policy; nine did so. Over half, or 58 of 116 policies obtained, made recording an option, but did not encourage it or provide guidance on how to record. Only a handful of policies provided guidance on conducting juvenile interrogations. No policies contained guidance on interrogation of intellectually disabled individuals. Only a handful said anything about how to properly conduct an interview, or cautioning against feeding facts through leading questions. About one-third of the policies, or 41 of 116, were very brief and chiefly noted that the Miranda warnings must be given. In addition, 58 agencies lacked written policies on interrogations. A real overhaul of interrogation policy and practice is necessary in jurisdictions like Virginia, to safeguard evidence in the most serious cases, and in far more mundane cases, such as those involving vulnerable juveniles.
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