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SACRAMENTO � False confessions, a leading cause of wrongful convictions according to one study, could be reduced if police are forced to record interrogations, a state panel concluded in a report issued Tuesday. The Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice recommended that the Legislature enact laws requiring investigators to videotape or sound-record interviews with suspects facing serious felony charges. If authorities don’t record the interrogation, jurors should be instructed to view statements about a confession “with caution,” commissioners recommended. The report follows the commission’s June 21 hearing in Los Angeles where two exonerated men, convicted on false confessions, testified that they were pressured by authorities into confessing crimes they did not commit. The men “told the commission that they doubt they would ever have been convicted if their interrogation had been electronically recorded, and a judge or jury was able to see the coerciveness of the interrogation techniques that were used,” the report said. The report’s recommendations were approved unanimously by voting members of the panel, which has been charged by the state Senate with recommending ways to reduce wrongful convictions in California. Former Attorney General John Van de Kamp chairs the 19-member panel, which includes prosecutors, public defenders, crime victim advocates and death penalty opponents. Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca abstained from a vote on the recommendations. Gerald Uelmen, the commission’s executive director, said the sheriff wanted to consider the issue “internally” and had concerns about the Legislature issuing mandates to elected sheriffs. False confessions are the second most frequent cause of wrongful convictions according to a 2005 study published in the Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology. Witness misidentification is the No. 1 cause. In addition to creating an objective record of the interrogation, recordings would improve the quality of such interviews while protecting police from unjustified accusations of wrongdoing, the report concluded. Nationally, more than 500 police agencies, including some or all of those in San Francisco, Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties, already record interrogations. Commissioners said authorities should videotape interviews with all felony suspects. But they stopped short of asking the state to require videotaping because of cost concerns. Supportive lawmakers may try to move the commission’s proposals with an existing bill, SB 171. The bill stalled in the Assembly last year over objections by the law enforcement lobby, as well as analysts’ predictions that new equipment and specialized interrogation rooms could cost tens of millions of dollars. “It’s on life support, and I think some people, particularly law enforcement, hope it has a DNR order on it,” said Sailaja Cherukuri, chief of staff to the bill’s author, Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-San Jose. In an effort to draw support, Cherukuri said Alquist has since amended the bill to drop a requirement that all murder suspects be videotaped. SB 171 will now “encourage” videotaping while requiring only audio recordings of interrogations related to serious felonies, she said. Cherukuri said she didn’t know whether the changes would be enough to entice wavering lawmakers before the legislative session ends later this summer.

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