Dear Friends of Justice in Arkansas:
I took a load of scrap paper to a recycler this morning to be shredded. A sign at the office door read: “All activities in this office are audio-visually recorded.” Many businesses have cameras running 24/7. But did you know that in this age, when just about anything can be recorded and posted on the Internet, something as important as police interrogations are generally not recorded in their entirety? Yet the notes taken by police and partially recorded statements are presented as evidence in courts of law, where people’s lives and liberty hang in the balance.
The Arkansas Supreme Court recently proposed a rule to change that, but the rule the court offered is weak. It only suggests that Arkansas law enforcement agencies electronically record interrogations. Many people, including me, believe that we need a stronger rule. We want the court to require police to record interrogations from beginning to end. We want a rule that will give everyone in the courtroom an accurate understanding of what was said in the interrogation.
As you know, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. were arrested after police questioned Misskelley, who was just 17 at the time, for close to eight hours without a parent or attorney present. Less than two hours of that session were recorded. Much of what he said, even in the recorded part, was wrong—his account did not conform to what police knew about the crime. Nevertheless, all three were arrested and convicted based on that bit of recording, and have spent the past 18 years in prison.
States where recording is required report that it works for police and defendants. Jurors also appreciate being able to base their decisions on reliable information.
The Arkansas Supreme Court is accepting public comments on its proposed recording rule. Please write to the court today. Ask that they adopt a rule saying that statements from police interrogations will not be admitted in court unless the interrogation was electronically recorded from beginning to end. Letters will be accepted until July 1. It’s too late to spare Damien, Jason and Jessie the abuses they’ve endured. But what we do in the next two weeks could spare others—and improve the quality of justice in Arkansas for years to come.
Address letters to:
Clerk to the Arkansas Supreme Court
625 Marshall Street
Little Rock, AR 72201
The salutation of your letter should read, “Dear Justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court:”
Thank you. And please ask everyone you know in Arkansas who cares to write a letter too!