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Court adopts police interrogation rule

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Following the model of more than a dozen other states, the Indiana Supreme Court has added a new Rule of Evidence to require that certain statements be recorded before they can be entered into evidence.

Approved by a three-justice majority, today's six-page order adds Indiana Rule 617 that applies to any statements on or after Jan. 1, 2011.

Noting how electronically recorded interrogations assist courts and can be used as a potent law enforcement tool for guilt or innocence, the rule reads in part, "In a felony criminal prosecution, evidence of a statement made by a person during a Custodial Interrogation in a Place of Detention shall not be admitted against the person unless an Electronic Recording of the statement was made."

The rule specifically mandates that an audio-video recording be made within a jail, law enforcement agency station house, or facility owned and operated by law enforcement.

Seven exemptions are included:

1. Statements made as part of routine processing or booking

2. Statements made when the suspect does not agree to be electronically recorded

3. When there is an equipment malfunction

4. When the interrogation takes place in another jurisdiction

5. When law enforcement officers reasonably believe the crime under investigation isn't a felony

6. The statement made is spontaneous and not in response to a question

7. Substantial exigent circumstances exist which prevent the recording

The rule takes effect in 2011, a delay put in place at Marion County's request, to allow law enforcement agencies there to buy necessary equipment, train officers, and implement the new policies.

Once it takes effect, the court expects the recordings will lead to fewer factual disputes and reduce the number of motions to suppress evidence, as well as possibly lead to more guilty pleas.

"With the foregoing considerations in mind, the Court finds that the interests of justice and sound judicial administration will be served by the adoption of a new Rule of Evidence," the order reads.

Voting against the revision were Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and Justice Frank Sullivan, who wrote dissenting paragraphs highlighting the Hoosier law enforcement community's integrity and existing practice as reasons not to amend the rule.

"There are states where bad conduct by police or prosecutors has led to repeated injustice in the criminal process," the chief justice wrote. "Indiana has not been such a place. My assessment of the honesty and professionalism of Indiana's public safety officers leads me to conclude that today's action is not warranted."

Justice Sullivan observed that many state police agencies have already taken this initiative on their own, and so it isn't necessary for the court to get involved.

More than 300 comments came into the court's Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure earlier this year during a public comment period that ended April 30. Of the total, the court reports that 89 comments came from law enforcement officers, 80 from the general public, 36 from prosecutors, 27 from public defenders, 61 from other attorneys, five from judges, and five from other judicial officers.

Sixteen states, as well as Washington, D.C., currently have statutory requirements or court rules requiring or encouraging the recording of police interrogations to some degree. Legislation has been proposed in several states and is endorsed by the American Bar Association. Wrongful conviction advocates report that about a quarter of the DNA exonerations nationally involve some aspect of innocent defendants making incriminating statements, delivering false confessions or pleading guilty.

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