Texas has a new law when it comes to police interrogations. Last month, House Bill 34 went into effect, now requiring law enforcement to record the audio for all serious felony interrogations. The push behind the new law is to prevent innocent people from being charged and convicted for crimes they didn’t commit.
Lawmakers who supported the bill point out that it is a natural reaction for anyone – even innocent people – to be nervous when being interviewed by a police officer. They may not be sure of the answers police are asking, but give them answers they think the officer wants to hear.
The National Registry of Exonerations records shows that Texas has had 323 exonerations since 1989. In 2015, the state had the highest number of exonerations in the country. The majority of these cases involved drug charges. Approximately 13 percent were for murder.
Some of the more high-profile Texas cases where the defendants have been exonerated include a man who spent 25 years in prison for his wife’s murder, a couple who spent 23 years in prison after being convicted of sexually abusing children at the daycare center they ran, and another man convicted of rape. Tragically, he died in prison before DNA cleared him of the crime.
There are other items the new law also addresses. Police will now be required to document how certain a witness is when they identify a suspect. A defendant will now be told if any testimony against them is coming from a prison informant and what the informant received in exchange for their testimony. There will also be two required studies conducted by the Texas Forensic Science Commission. One will be on the use of drug field kits and the other on how crime scene investigations are conducted.
Criminal attorney Stephen Hamilton recently spoke about the new law. “This law is long overdue. Too often, law enforcement becomes so focused on one suspect, they have tunnel vision and fail to see that person is actually innocent.”