February 14, 2011
STATE V. LOCKHART-RECORDING CONFESSIONS
By: Christopher Reinhart, Chief Attorney
You asked for a summary of the Connecticut Supreme Court's discussion of recording police interrogations in State v. Lockhart, 298 Conn. 537 (2010).
In State v. Lockhart, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that neither the federal nor state constitutions require law enforcement to electronically record custodial interrogations or a defendant's refusal to provide a statement, refusal to acknowledge the reading or his or her Miranda rights, or assertion of his or her right to remain silent. Applying the test previously established to analyze independent claims under the state constitution, the majority found that:
1. no constitutional text or federal court precedent supports imposing such a requirement;
2. state and federal constitutional texts are similar or identical and they do not support the defendant's claim;
3. no requirement to corroborate confessions existed at common law when these constitutional provisions were adopted;
4. virtually every state court that considered similar arguments concluded that due process does not require recording interrogations;
5. while noting the benefits of recording, imposing such a requirement would be costly, inhibit police from pursuing evidence by constitutional means, and limit a suspect's willingness to speak to police; and
6. it would be difficult to set a rule's parameters and the legislature is better positioned to consider whether and how to impose such a rule.
Alternatively, the court considered whether it would use its supervisory authority over the administration of justice to order the recording. The majority declined to find that it could use this authority to order recording. The majority based its decision on the limited scope of the authority, the availability of other legal means to protect a defendant's rights and the judicial system's integrity, and a recognition that the legislature is better suited to address this issue.
Justice Palmer concurred in the majority's conclusion but argued that the court should use its supervisory powers to require recording. His principle argument was that protection of the integrity of the criminal justice system necessitates use of the court's supervisory powers even if non-judicial actors are affected in the process.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The defendant, Julian Lockhart, was arrested in Georgia and extradited to Connecticut for commission of murder, felony murder, 1st degree robbery, and 3rd degree larceny. While awaiting extradition, the defendant made statements to Connecticut detectives during an interview. During the trial, the defendant moved to suppress the statement he made while in custody. The trial court denied the motion and a jury found the defendant guilty of all charges. The defendant appealed to the state Supreme Court.
The issues on appeal were whether:
1. the federal and state constitutions require law enforcement agents to electronically record, where feasible, custodial interrogations, Miranda warnings, and resulting statements made by defendants and
2. the state violated the defendant's right to remain silent by introducing testimony that he (a) refused to sign a Miranda rights acknowledgement card and provide a written statement, (b) terminated the interview with the detectives, and (c) asserted his right to remain silent.
Justice McLachlan wrote the opinion of the court, joined by Chief Justice Rogers, Justice Zarella, and Judge Gruendel. The majority considered various factors before finding no basis for requiring recording post-arrest procedures. We discuss each of these below.
The majority looked at the court's ruling in State v. James (237 Conn. 390 (1996)), when it previously held that the due process clause of Article I, § 8 of the state constitution does not require recording confessions for them to be admissible. The court stated that it would not lightly overrule precedent.
State Constitutional Claims
To determine whether the state constitution imposes a recording requirement, the majority used the test laid out in State v. Geisler (222 Conn. 672 (1992)). Under Geisler, the court looks at:
1. the text of the operative constitutional provisions,
2. related Connecticut precedents,
3. persuasive relevant federal precedents,
4. persuasive precedents in other state courts,
5. historical insights into the intent of our constitutional forbearers, and
6. contemporary understandings of applicable economic and sociological norms or relevant public policies.
Applying this test, the majority concluded that the state constitution does not impose a recording requirement. The majority found the following.
1. There is no court precedent for the federal constitution imposing a recording requirement.
2. No constitutional text supports a requirement.
3. The state and federal constitutional texts are similar in certain places and identical in others and Connecticut case law does not provide support for the defendant's claim.
4. There is no persuasive evidence of intent on the part of the drafters of the constitution to require corroboration of confessions.
5. Virtually every state that considered similar arguments concluded that due process does not require recording confessions primarily because there is a procedure in place to determine if a confession is voluntary and admissible (juries or trial courts).
6. Other decisions found that when not mandated by the state constitution, the legislature is better suited to decide whether to require recordings.
7. Only Alaska required recording as a matter of due process. Three courts required it in some circumstances under their supervisory powers. This provides little support in light of the more persuasive analysis from other states that the procedures already used to prevent admission of involuntary confessions satisfy the state due process clause which, in these circumstances, provides no greater protections than its federal counterpart.
8. There are benefits to electronic recording and the court's statement in James that recoding confessions and interrogations should be encouraged is reaffirmed.
9. Imposing a recording requirement would require the court to establish a rule and set the parameters for recording such as who the requirement applies to, what crimes it applies to, what is recorded, and the consequences for failing to record. There is a lack of uniformity among legislation and court rules in other states. The court would need to weigh competing public policies and evaluate a variety of possible rules. The legislature is in a better position to evaluate competing policy interests in developing a requirement and can invite comment from law enforcement, prosecutors, and defense attorneys on policy considerations and practical challenges.
10. “Stated another way, although it is our province to rule on state constitutional matters, this particular question involves factual issues, the gathering and evaluation of which is, in this case, the proper function of the legislature.”
Inherent supervisory powers
The defendant also argued that the court should adopt a recording requirement under its supervisory powers. The majority stated that the court possesses inherent supervisory authority over the administration of justice but using these powers is an extraordinary remedy. The court declined to use these powers to adopt a recording requirement for the following reasons.
1. The court uses these powers when there is no constitutional violation but the issue is of utmost seriousness for the integrity of a particular trial and the perceived fairness of the judicial system as a whole.
2. Adopting a recording requirement implicates the scope of the court's authority. Normally the court uses this power to affect the conduct of judicial actors. A recording requirement would directly affect the admissibility of evidence but also directly affect non-judicial actors—law enforcement agencies.
3. Even assuming the court has authority to impose this requirement, the existing constitutional, statutory, and procedural limits are generally adequate to protect a defendant's rights and the judicial system's integrity. The court invokes its powers in the rare circumstance where existing procedures are inadequate to ensure the fair and just administration of the courts.
4. The legislature is better suited to address this issue.
JUSTICE PALMER'S CONCURRENCE
Justice Palmer agreed with the majority's conclusion to affirm the lower court's decision. But he disagreed with the court's refusal to use its inherent supervisory authority to create a rule that “whenever feasible, police station interrogations of suspects shall be recorded electronically.”
Justice Palmer reasoned as follows.
1. Courts and juries must determine whether a confession was freely given and whether police techniques caused a suspect to admit to a crime he or she did not commit. Recordings provide an objectively accurate picture of what transpired and enhance the ability to evaluate the confession's voluntariness and validity.
2. There is an increasing awareness of false confessions. A variety of factors can lead to false confessions including police techniques; duress; coercion; a defendant's intoxication, diminished capacity, mental impairment, ignorance of the law, fear of violence, or misunderstanding of the situation; actual infliction of harm, or threat of a harsh sentence. Regardless of age, capacity, or state of the confessor at some point confessing becomes more beneficial than continuing to maintain innocence.
3. Recording “would dramatically reduce the number of wrongful convictions due to false confessions, and it would protect against the use of confessions that are involuntary and, therefore, inherently unreliable.” A confession is such persuasive evidence of guilt that a recording's value cannot be overstated.
Justice Palmer rejected the majority's arguments for declining to use the court's supervisory powers and argued that these concerns do not outweigh the overriding benefits of recoding interrogations. He stated that:
1. few issues are of greater importance to the perceived fairness and integrity of the criminal justice system than the voluntariness and reliability of confessions;
2. this is the kind of issue that warrants use of the court's powers;
3. it is not beyond the court's power to affect non-judicial actors and imposing a rule to enhance fairness by encouraging police practices is not unprecedented;
4. the cost of imposing this requirement is “extremely modest;”
5. it is a “purely speculative argument” that recording might inhibit police in pursuing confessions;
6. the “relatively minor differences” among states with a recording requirement does not show the difficulty in setting a rule's parameters and do not justify doing nothing; and
7. without express direction from the legislature, the court has constitutional responsibility to address and resolve this issue.