Colorado Makes a Splash in Interrogation Law

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Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper recently signed into law a bill that will require Colorado law enforcement to electronically record interrogations in certain felony cases. A state policy advocate for the Innocence Project told the Colorado Independent that the law “will not only protect the innocent, it will strengthen good cases against the real perpetrators of crimes. This is a big win for all Coloradans.”

False confessions under police interrogation are not uncommon — and recording interrogations is not a new solution. In 1932, law professor Edwin Borchard recommended recording police interrogations after reviewing 65 cases of innocent convictions. Borchard identified false confessions resulting from high-pressure interrogations as the chief error in the investigation and prosecution of suspects.

Despite similar research emerging nearly every decade after Borchard’s findings, interrogation reform didn’t take off until the 1990s, when the work of the Innocence Project ushered in a movement that helped clear hundreds of false convictions. Police departments in at least 20 states, including Colorado, now require the electronic recording of interrogations. There’s sign of reform on the federal level as well — in 2014, the Federal Bureau of Investigation overturned a 100-year-old ban on recording interrogations.

Research has shown that suspects are sometimes subject to certain conditions that affect pressure to confess, regardless of actual culpability for the crime. Suspects who are young, mentally ill, or a minority are at increased risk of false confession. Many are ill prepared for interrogation tactics that are often designed to produce high anxiety levels — so much so that the American Psychological Association officially recommends that law enforcement agencies electronically record all interrogations.