The Obameter

Encourage videotaping of interrogations in capital cases

Will encourage states to adopt a law similar to one he shepherded through the Illinois legislature, "requiring videotaping of interrogations and confessions in capital cases to ensure that prosecutions are fair."


"Barack Obama and Joe Biden: Creating Equal Opportunity and Justice for All"

Subjects: Civil Rights, Crime, Technology


State laws now often go beyond just capital cases

Updated: Monday, January 7th, 2013 | By Louis Jacobson

When Barack Obama was an Illinois state senator, he authored a law that required the videotaping of interrogations and confessions in capital cases. In the last few years, the support for that approach has grown so much that that most new state laws address all serious felony cases, rather than just capital crimes.

The growth in this approach is worth noting as we look at whether Obama has kept his promise to encourage states to adopt laws "requiring videotaping of interrogations and confessions in capital cases to ensure that prosecutions are fair."

According to the Innocence Project -- a group that works to overturn wrongful convictions -- 17 states plus the District of Columbia now have reasonably strong laws requiring videotaping of interrogations, typically for serious felonies beyond capital crimes. The states with such laws are Alaska, Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

"The policy has been spreading widely over the last couple years,” said Barry Scheck, co-founder and co-director of the Innocence Project.

For instance, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced in September 2012 that his officers will begin expanding their videotaping efforts, due in part to the expectations of a public that flocks to police shows like CSI.

"We believe there's a growing expectation on the part of juries that interviews will be recorded -- call it part of the 'CSI' effect," Kelly said in a speech at the Carnegie Council, ABC News reported.

Such practices likely would have spread without federal encouragement. The International Association of Chiefs of Police has been promoting practices such as videotaping that are designed to minimize wrongful convictions.

Still, Obama's Justice Department has played a role encouraging the practice.

Three Justice Department offices -- the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the National Institute of Justice and the Office for Victims of Crime -- co-sponsored an August 2012 National Summit on Wrongful Convictions hosted by the police chiefs' association.

In an address to the conference, Mary Lou Leary, the acting assistant attorney general, said the department has been supporting "training and technical assistance to improve the investigation and litigation of these cases” in cooperation with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and other groups, including three national training sessions attended by a total of 520 people nationwide.

Meanwhile, a bill sponsored by retiring Sen. James Webb, D-Va., could have led to a spread of videotaping laws, among other criminal-justice reforms. But the measure has languished in the Senate. The bill would have created a National Criminal Justice Commission to review and make recommendations on all areas of the justice system, including federal, state, local, and tribal governments' criminal justice costs, practices, and policies. The commission was modeled on one under the late Robert F. Kennedy that helped change how bail and indigent representation are handled.

Despite garnering 31 co-sponsors in the most recent Congress, however, the bill did not make it out of a Senate committee.

Even so, the Justice Department has spent money and lent rhetorical support to reforms to stem wrongful convictions, including the videotaping of interrogations. We rate this a Promise Kept.


Mary Lou Leary (acting assistant attorney general), remarks to the National Summit on Wrongful Convictions, Aug. 22, 2012

Innocence Project, "A Plea to Pass Federal Criminal Justice Reform,” Sept. 15, 2011

Text of S. 306, (the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2011)

ABC News, "'CSI' Inspires NYPD to Video Tape Interrogations, Commissioner Says," Sept. 19, 2012

Email interview with Eugene O'Donnell, lecturer in Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Jan. 3, 2013

Email interview with David A. Harris, law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, Jan. 3, 2013

Email interview with Paul Cates, communications director for the Innocence Project, Jan. 4, 2013

Interview with Barry Scheck, co-founder and co-director of the Innocence Project, Jan. 4, 2013

No sign of action

Updated: Wednesday, January 13th, 2010 | By Hadas Gold

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised that he would encourage states to adopt reforms "requiring videotaping of interrogations and confessions in capital cases to ensure that prosecutions are fair."

While an Illinois state senator, Obama authored a law that required the videotaping of interrogations and confessions in capital cases. The goal was to ensure fairness and accountability in interrogations. The law passed on a unanimous vote and many said helped put Obama on the map for his skill in working with Republicans, Democrats, police and prosecutors.

But there's no sign he's pursued such laws since becoming president. Searches of the Web sites of the White House, U.S. Department of Justice, National Governor's Association, and many other sites failed to turn up any tangible progress on this promise.

Perhaps the administration will be pursuing this in the future, but so far we see no progress. So we're rating this one Stalled.


Extensive searches of, the U.S. Department of Justice and other Web sites.

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