Tom Hagen

Police Recording Requirement | If you are taken into police custody and questioned, many things can happen during that questioning.  Some of them might or might not be favorable to you, if you are later prosecuted for a crime.  While you might understandably want the unfavorable parts to disappear, if the questioning is not recorded, anything favorable to you can also be lost forever.

For that reason, Minnesota law requires that all “custodial” interrogations that occur at a police station or other place of detention must be recorded in their entirety.  If the police fail to comply with this requirement, the court may not allow anything the suspect said during the interrogation to be admitted as evidence if the suspect is later prosecuted for a crime.  Minnesota law is a little bit special on this point—in the whole country, only Minnesota and Alaska (is there something in the cold weather…?) currently have such an across-the-board recording requirement.  Illinois, Maine, and Washington, D.C. require police interrogations to be recorded in homicide cases.

The rationale behind this requirement is that it helps avoid factual disputes about whether a suspect’s constitutional rights were violated during the interrogation.  For example, a defendant might argue that he was never properly read his Miranda rights, or that he was coerced or threatened into confessing to a crime.  In theory, the recording requirement eliminates those issues.  It also helps protect defendants from losing in a suspect v. police officer credibility contest at trial if the defendant does argue that

In practice, though, does the recording requirement work?  Both police officers and suspects stand to benefit, and clearly have benefited, from the law.  However, a few points suggest the law is only of incomplete assistance to suspects.  For one thing, the requirement only applies if the police questioning occurs in a place of detention, generally a police station.  If the questioning occurs somewhere else, Minnesota law only requires that the police make a recording if feasible.  This leaves pretty broad scope for significant numbers of interrogations to occur without being recorded, since it’s not uncommon for police to question suspects at, for example, the place the suspect is arrested.  Further, a recording is only required if the suspect is actually in custody, not if the questioning occurs in a casual conversation between the police and the suspect.  While a broader law might entail practical and financial obstacles, expansion of the law to protect all interrogations could be beneficial to fully protect both police officers and suspects from a later “he said, she said” argument about exactly what happened during questioning.