10/07/07 — New rules could alter questions by officers

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New rules could alter questions by officers

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on October 7, 2007 2:28 AM

When police interview a suspect, they don't start with the hard questions first.

It's called establishing rapport -- making an interview subject feel more comfortable with the investigator.

And there's some question as to whether a new law might have a chilling effect on establishing rapport in homicide investigations when it takes effect on March 1, Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders said.

House Bill 1626 from the North Carolina General Assembly requires electronic taping of custodial interrogations in homicide investigations in jail or other "places of detention."

"Electronic recording", accor-ding to the law, can mean either audio or video taping of the interrogation, and must be "unaltered, accurate and authentic," the law states.

The sheriff said he "has some reservations" about the law, because investigators might have to use what might be seen as deception to get a potentially guilty suspect to feel comfortable enough to confess.

U.S. Supreme Court decisions have upheld police use of deception when they follow proper procedures.

"You may have to use deception," Winders said. "I don't know how the jury will feel about that."

On the other hand, a successful interrogation might help prosecution of cases, the sheriff said.

"I reckon that if a person confesses on tape, and it's audio, and he or she is telling the crime they committed ... it may make the cases a whole stronger," Winders said. "There are pros and cons to it."

District Attorney Branny Vickory said it's important to remember that the rule only applies to custodial homicide interrogations.

He also said the new procedures are something law enforcement officers will probably get used to.

"I've been talking about doing more of this type of thing for a long time," Vickory said. "It's like everything else -- it's hard to change the culture of the way things are done.

"Everybody's conscious when there's a ... (recording device) on them," Vickory said. "Once they get used to doing it, I don't think it's going to be as big a problem as folks might perceive."

But there's another problem -- good police interrogators change personas to establish rapport.

The sheriff discussed the possibility of interviewing suspects with outwardly professed racist beliefs, "skinheads" as an example.

"You may have to say things that you normally wouldn't say," Winders said.

Interrogations of a sexual predators might be another good example, the sheriff said.

"Whatever role playing you have to play there," Winders said. "I'm hoping that won't affect the interrogation."

The law states the intended purpose "is to require the creation of an electronic record ... in order to eliminate disputes about interrogations, thereby improving prosecution of the guilty while affording protection to the innocent and increasing court efficiency."