September 17, 2002
Raymond Kelly, Commissioner
New York City Police Department
Dear Commissioner Kelly,
In light of recent developments in the Central Park Jogger case, we write to request that the NYPD start videotaping custodial interrogations of suspects in cases involving serious crimes. We believe that such videotaping, which is becoming a part of police practices in other jurisdictions, would yield significant benefits not only to the accused but also to the NYPD and to prosecutors.
As you undoubtedly are aware, the disclosure earlier this month of the confession of Matias Reyes about his role in the rape and near murder of the female jogger and the related disclosures about DNA analysis of material found at the crime scene have cast serious doubt on the validity of the convictions of five teenagers allegedly involved in the attack. A central part of the ensuing public controversy has focused on the reliability of confessions obtained by the NYPD from the teenagers, which were introduced at trial and undoubtedly played a substantial role in the resulting convictions.
The teenagers assert that their confessions were false and coerced through actions of NYPD officers undertaken during interrogations that took place prior to the videotaping of the confessions. That assertion has taken on far greater credibility in light of the recent disclosures, which suggest that the teenagers may have been innocent of the crimes to which they confessed.
There is every reason to believe that unreliable confessions are a substantial problem in law enforcement. A story published by the Chicago Tribune last December year, for instance, reported hundreds of cases in Cook County that involved coerced or otherwise improper confessions since 1991. And we are aware of numerous recent cases in New York in which post-conviction disclosures exonerated defendants who had confessed to serious crimes.
The videotaping of custodial interrogations would provide critically important information about the validity of subsequent confessions. On the one hand, if defendants in fact are coerced, documentation of this would be available so as to provide a basis for barring improper reliance upon such confessions. It also would provide important information to the NYPD so it could take appropriate steps to eliminate improper interrogation practices. On the other hand, the videotaping of custodial interrogations would provide the Department and prosecutors with persuasive evidence to rebut unfounded charges of coercion by defendants, which also would substantially benefit the criminal-justice system.
The NYCLU has undertaken considerable research into the issue of the videotaping of custodial interrogations, and we would welcome the opportunity to share this with you and your staff. We look forward to hearing from you about this matter.
Associate Legal Director
c: Steven Hammerman, Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters
Gail Donoghue, Office of Corporation Counsel