WI Supreme Court requires electronic recording of interrogations in juvenile cases

On July 9, 2005, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that custodial interrogations of juveniles must be electronically recorded when feasible, and without exception when the interrogation occurs in a place of detention. State v. Jerrell, 2005 WI 105. The case, which thrusts Wisconsin into the forefront of a nationwide movement toward greater acceptance of electronic recording of interrogations, was litigated before the Wisconsin Supreme Court by State Public Defender Eileen Hirsch. The Wisconsin Innocence Project filed an amicus brief. Another amicus brief was filed by the Bluhm Legal Clinic of Northwestern University, University of Wisconsin Professor Emerita Marygold Melli, and the Juvenile Law Center.

Outside the criminal justice system, most of us are very familiar with the notion that electronic recordings are the most effective way to preserve complete and accurate records for events. For example, the National Footbal League has recently re-instated instant replay to help its referees make the right calls, while technology providers have recently begun producing single-use, disposable camcorders so that we can produce digital records of the significant events in our lives.

The principle is no less true in the criminal justice system. As Innocence Projects around the country have exposed wrongful convictions, including many based on false confessions, electronic recording of interrogations has been touted as a reform that might help the system avoid future wrongful convictions. In addition, reform advocates have also pointed out the ample benefits to law enforcement inherent in recording. For instance, criminals who confess to police during interrogations can no longer hope to disingenuously deny their confessions in front of juries; nor can they falsely claim abuse at the hands of police. In this sense, electronic recording saves police officers from wasting time in court and also protects them from false claims of misconduct. (Read more about the benefits of electronic recording.)

The Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision represents a monumental step in the movement toward electronic recording. With the decision, Wisconsin becomes the third state with some form of judicially-mandated recording. Other states, including Illinois, New Mexico, Maine, and Texas have already addressed the issue through legislation, and more than a dozen other states will be considering such legislation this year.

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