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special to the national law journal G. Daniel Lassiter, a professor of psychology at Ohio University, is the editor of the forthcoming Interrogations, Confessions, and Entrapment (Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2004). As of may 2003, the Death Penalty Information Center had documented 108 cases in which death row inmates (from 25 states) were exonerated-some only days prior to their scheduled executions-because of newly discovered evidence. Reacting to some of these alarming figures, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a long-time supporter of the death penalty, acknowledged in a New York Times article on July 5, 2001, “If statistics are any indication, the system may well be allowing some innocent defendants to be executed.” Many mistakes in the judicial process that contribute to wrongful convictions occur during the interrogation phase of criminal investigations, where coerced or false confessions are sometimes extracted from detained crime suspects. Numerous legal scholars, criminal justice practitioners, political leaders and social scientists have called for the videotaping of all police interrogations as a solution to the problem of some innocent people being induced to incriminate themselves when confronted by standard police interrogation tactics. Those who advocate videotaping interrogations argue that the presence of the camera will deter the use of coercive methods to induce confessions and will provide a complete and objective record of the interrogation so that judges and jurors can evaluate thoroughly and accurately the voluntariness and veracity of any confessions. I am aware of at least one proponent who is so sure of the soundness of the videotaping procedure that he has gone as far as to argue that legally required Miranda warnings to suspects concerning their rights to silence and counsel can be dispensed with if interrogations are routinely videotaped. Under certain circumstances, I have no doubt that more accurate assessments of the voluntariness and reliability of confessions can be obtained via the videotape method. Certainly, if interrogators use obviously assaultive coercion, any reasonable observer will recognize the illegitimacy of the confession. However, such third-degree intimidation has been replaced by nonassaultive psychological manipulation that is not always recognized as coercive but, as research has shown, can nonetheless lead to false admissions of guilt. For example, in the case of Peter Reilly, police interrogators lied about the evidence they possessed that linked the 18-year-old to his mother’s murder. They repeatedly suggested to Reilly that he could have committed the crime without remembering it. And they impressed upon the youth that his actions were, in fact, justifiable, given his mother’s constant antagonisms. After 16 hours of interrogation, Reilly confessed. His signed statement closely followed the scenario laid out by his interrogators-one he had been manipulated into believing was accurate, yet later was demonstrated to be meritless. Although eventually exonerated, Reilly spent two years of his young life as a wrongfully convicted man on account of a police-induced false confession. In this age of psychologically oriented interrogation techniques, videotaping interrogations and confessions may not be a surefire preventive against convicting the truly innocent. In the United States and in many other countries (such as Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom) videotaped interrogations and confessions are customarily recorded with the camera lens zeroed in on the suspect. One likely reason for this is the belief that a careful examination of not only a suspect’s words, but also his or her less conspicuous actions or expressions, will ultimately reveal the truth. The empirical validity of such beliefs aside, I have found in a 20-year program of research that focusing the video camera primarily on the suspect in an interrogation has the effect of impressing upon viewers the notion that the suspect’s statements more likely are freely and intentionally given and not the result of some form of coercion. Moreover, a comparison of judgments derived from suspect-focus videotapes with judgments based on “control” media-transcripts and audiotapes-leads to the conclusion that the greater perception of voluntariness that we associate with suspect-focus videotapes is an unmistakable bias of the most serious kind. Indeed, it runs contrary to the cornerstone of our system of justice- the presumption of innocence. The camera may “never blink,” but that doesn’t mean that what it “sees” can be considered an unadulterated view of reality. As Marshall McLuhan wrote, the information that media conveys is not entirely independent of the method used. This is not to say that videotaped interrogation and confession evidence should not be used at all in courts of law. The data indicate that when the camera perspective allows for the suspect and interrogator to be viewed equally well, there appears to be no discernible bias associated with the videotaping procedure. This very approach to preventing the point-of-view bias in videotaped confessions has already been established in one country: New Zealand made it a national policy that police interrogations be videotaped from an equal-focus perspective based only on the first study conducted in our research program. With the greater wealth of data that we now have, I do not hesitate to recommend that a similar policy be adopted in the United States, as well as in the other countries.

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