Arkansas Supreme Court proposes weak rule 

Last week, I took a load of papers to a recycler to be shredded. The office was a small aluminum building surrounded by mounds of cardboard and paper. It wasn't exactly Fort Knox. Still, a sign on the door warned that everything inside the building was being audio-video recorded.

Businesses record constantly. Banks. Stores. Gas stations. Almost any operation that can be robbed equips itself with cameras. Security is a cost of doing business.

We know, if only thanks to TV cop shows, that police cars are now equipped with cameras. Those cameras supply a measure of security for police — proof that they acted properly. And sometimes the cameras catch evidence that supports a defendant in court.

But what happens at the police station itself? What kind of recording do Arkansas police do when they bring someone in for questioning? Answer: As much or as little as they choose.

If you were brought into a police station for questioning about a crime, your interrogation might be recorded entirely. But that's unlikely. Usually, a video camera or audio recorder will be turned on only when police think you're ready to make a statement, and that can be after hours of unrecorded questioning. Often, no electronic recording is made at all. In those cases, the only record of what you've said will be an officer's paraphrased notes.

Police used to have to rely on pencils and paper. And even when audio-video equipment became available, it was expensive and tapes were a pain to store. But we're in a new era now, with inexpensive recorders and easy computer storage. It's time for police and courts to catch up.

Last month, the Arkansas Supreme Court took a half-step toward doing so, announcing that it was changing its Rules of Criminal Procedure regarding interrogations. The proposed rule says that "whenever practical, a custodial interrogation ... should be recorded."

That's not good enough. Police interrogations often result in criminal charges. Statements made during them become evidence at trials, where liberty — and sometimes life — hang in the balance. The Arkansas Supreme Court should set a high standard for that evidence.

Experts from the American Bar Association, American Psychiatric Association, National Association of District Attorneys, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and many police agencies agree: electronic recording improves the accuracy, fairness, and reliability of statements taken by police.

The weak rule the Supreme Court has proposed relies on judges to decide whether to admit statements that were not electronically recorded. That passes the buck. We need a Supreme Court rule that is clear and uniform, and that applies equally to every police agency in Arkansas. Seventeen other states require that, and it's time for Arkansas to adopt a strong recording rule too.

The Arkansas Supreme Court is accepting public comments on its proposed electronic recording rule until July 1. Please write to the court (at 625 Marshall St., Little Rock, AR 72201) before that deadline.

Tell the justices that police should record custodial interrogations from beginning to end, and that courts should not admit evidence from interviews unless they were entirely recorded.

While there are few reasons to support a half-measure, there are many that favor a strong recording rule—one that requires at least as much as my recycler—especially when the stakes are so high. For one: think what it might have meant for the West Memphis Three if, 18 years ago, police had recorded—not just two disjointed, error-filled statements—but the full eight-hour interrogation of Jessie Misskelley Jr.


From the ArkTimes store

Speaking of Arkansas Supreme Court, Jessie Misskelley Jr.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Mara Leveritt

  • Who's afraid of Barry Seal?

    The 'true lie' behind Tom Cruise's new film on the notorious drug-trafficker-turned-federal-informant who operated out of Arkansas.
    • Sep 28, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Schlafly's influence

    Phyllis Schlafly, mother, attorney and longtime antifeminist, died recently. What Schlafly promoted was not novel or new. Men had been saying that men and women were not equal for years. However, anti-feminism, anti-women language had much more power coming from a woman who professed to be looking out for the good of all women and families.
    • Sep 15, 2016
  • Seven

    The controversy over the Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol lawn just won't go away.
    • Feb 9, 2017
  • Another Jesus

    If you follow the logic of Jason Rapert and his supporters, God is very pleased so many have donated money to rebuild a giant stone slab with some rules on it. A few minutes on Rapert's Facebook page (if he hasn't blocked you yet) also shows his supporters believe that Jesus wants us to lock up more people in prison, close our borders to those in need and let poor Americans fend for themselves for food and health care.
    • Jul 20, 2017

Most Shared

Latest in Guest Writer

  • Safe schools

    A truth all teachers know: If you want to see the secrets and shortcomings of any community, just take a peek inside its classrooms. You'll find poverty, lack of education, substance abuse, unstable families and socioeconomic segregation. Children have no choice but to bear the brunt of social ills, making schools the easiest places to spot and measure our failings.
    • Mar 8, 2018
  • Rights at risk

    Forty-five years ago this year, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a fundamental truth: A woman's right to personal autonomy must include the ability to make the most deeply personal decision of all — the decision of when and whether to have a child.
    • Feb 8, 2018
  • More guns than sense

    Let's be honest: It's a tough time to be a gun safety advocate in Arkansas.
    • Feb 8, 2018
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »


  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Send in the segs

    • They came for the small rural schools with a list of standards, and the large…

    • on March 18, 2018
  • Re: Tax 'relief'

    • Yep, and unfortunately, enough people are uninformed that they will believe their PR BS.

    • on March 17, 2018

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation