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Senate panel moves interrogation recording bill

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Custodial interviews of suspects in serious crimes would have to be recorded under a bill advancing in the Florida Senate.

SB 204 is one of several criminal justice reform bills being pushed by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and passed the Senate Judiciary Committee 6-0 on March 4. It passed the Senate Criminal Justice Committee in February.

“This is long considered best practices in the law enforcement community,” Brandes said. “I think it helps the law enforcement officers. I think it helps the judges. I think it helps the jury. I think it helps the prosecutors. I think it helps the defendant. I think it helps the public defender. Everyone wins here when we have transparency.”

The measure requires electronic recording of interviews occurring at a place of detention if they fit into one of 17 categories enumerated in the bill, which range from sexual battery to robbery to carjacking to murder. If a recording is not made, then the officer doing the interrogation must make a written report on why that was not done.

The bill lists several exceptions where a recording isn’t required, such as equipment problems or the interview subject refusing to be recorded. However, if those exceptions do not apply and a recording is not made, a judge may consider that in deciding whether the interrogation is admissible and if it is, upon the defendant’s request, the judge must “give cautionary instructions to the jury regarding the law enforcement officer’s failure to comply with that requirement.”

Recording custodial interrogations in serious crimes was one on the recommendations of the Supreme Court’s Innocence Commission, which finished its work in 2012, but has consistently been opposed by law enforcement whenever it has been taken up in the Legislature.

The bill drew a broad range of support at the Judiciary Committee from Americans for Prosperity, the ACLU, the Florida Public Defenders Association, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Innocence Project of Florida, and the Florida Smart Justice Alliance. No law enforcement organizations or officials expressed an opinion on the bill.

The bill next goes to the Senate Rules Committee and if it clears there to the floor. A similar bill, HB 1029, was filed on March 5 in the House but has not yet been schedule for committee hearings.