August 6, 2014

Videotape All Interrogations of Felony Suspects, APA Recommends

Association adopts resolution aimed at protecting the innocent

WASHINGTON — The American Psychological Association adopted a resolution today aimed at stemming false confessions and wrongful convictions, including a recommendation that all interrogations of felony suspects be videotaped in their entirety and from a “neutral” angle.

“Confessions are a particularly potent form of evidence that jurors often don’t fully discount, even when they are judged to have been coerced,” said APA President Nadine J. Kaslow, PhD. “Videotaping interrogations in their entirety has the potential to deter law enforcement officials from using inappropriate tactics and defense attorneys from making frivolous claims of police coercion.”

The resolution was adopted by APA’s governing Council of Representatives at its meeting in Washington just before APA’s Annual Convention, Aug. 7-10.

The measure, which relies heavily on psychological research, notes that law enforcement officers often close their investigations after a criminal suspect confesses, even in cases where the confession is inconsistent, contradicted by evidence or coerced. Many adults with mental disabilities and younger suspects don’t fully understand their right to remain silent and to have a lawyer present, and are more likely to waive their rights, according to the resolution. In addition, jurors often have difficulty distinguishing true confessions from false, in part because even false confessions sometimes contain vivid and accurate details and facts that had not been previously reported.

“Research shows that interrogations that are recorded from a ‘neutral’ perspective — that is, focusing equally on suspects and interrogators — produce less prejudiced interpretations of suspects’ statements and behaviors,” Kaslow said. “APA hopes that police, prosecutors and the courts adopt these practices as quickly as possible in order to prevent any more innocent people from being falsely convicted by tainted confessions.”

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA's membership includes more than 134,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.