Bill on recording interrogations, reviewing young offender sentences moves in Senate

first_img Feb 05, 2021 By Gary Blankenship Senior Editor Top Stories Sen. Jeff BrandesA bill to require most police interrogations to be recorded and to expand automatic reviews of long prison terms to “young offenders” as well as those sentenced as juveniles has passed the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.SB 232 is one of several criminal justice reform bills pushed by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, in this year and in recent sessions.Brandes said the bill streamlines the medical conditional and aging relief programs for older inmates, expands the already legislatively approved review of long sentences imposed on juveniles to those who committed crimes before the age of 25, expands the number of juveniles who can have their life sentences reviewed, and requires the recording of most police interrogations if done “at a place of detention.”Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia have laws, rules, or court precedent that require recording in custodial interrogations or allow the court to consider the lack of a recording when considering the admissibility of a statement.The Legislature has rejected attempts in recent years to add Florida to that list, although 58 local law enforcement agencies record some or all interrogations. The bill would require electronic recordings for interrogations conducted at jails and police stations for most offenses ranging from aggravated battery to murder. Exceptions would include unforeseen equipment problems, the suspect refuses to talk if recorded, the statement is made spontaneously without a chance to record, and similar circumstances.Officers would have to explain the lack of a recording in a written report. Unless an exception applied, the court would have to consider the lack of a recording when considering the admissibility of a statement.Recording interrogations was one of the recommendations made by the Florida Innocence Commission, which delivered several recommendations in 2012 aimed at preventing wrongful convictions.On reviewing sentences, the Legislature had already in 2014 adopted a system for reexamining long sentences imposed on juveniles. That came after the U.S. Supreme Court rulings held that juveniles could not be sentenced to life without parole for non-homicide offenses or to life without parole for murder if the sentence was part of a mandatory sentencing process.Depending on the severity of the offense and the sentence, that review would come after 15, 20, or 25 years. However, those who had previous convictions for a variety of offenses from false imprisonment and armed burglary to sexual battery and murder did not qualify for the review.SB 232 would allow those reviews except for those previously convicted of murder.It would also extend reviews for those who committed crimes as juveniles to “young offenders,” defined as someone “who committed an offense before he or she reached 25 years of age.” The eligibility, which would apply retroactively, is slightly different. Those convicted of life felonies with a more than 20-year sentence could have a review after 20 years, and those convicted of first-degree felonies and sentenced to more than 15 years could have a review after 15 years.On early release, Brandes’ bill would remove the Florida Commission on Offender Review from that process, shortening it for elderly inmates or those with severe medical problems.Currently, he said the Department of Corrections conducts a thorough review on such cases and then sends the information to FCOR, which conducts another review. Brandes said it would be quicker and simpler to let the DOC secretary make the decision, adding in some cases terminally ill inmates have died before the reviews were done.“We have thousands of people in prison today who are elderly and this looks at them in a very different way,” Brandes said. “It allows the [DOC] secretary to review that case along with his team and determine if that person would be eligible for house arrest or some type of electronic monitoring. For us, it’s really trying to deal with the enormous amount of elderly we have in the prison system.”Several people spoke in favor of the bill. Some were relatives of inmates but some were crime victims, but all called for reform including more emphasis on rehabilitation in the prison system.The committee approved the bill 7-0. It next goes to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice and then the Appropriations Committee.According to the Senate’s website, no comparable bill has yet been introduced in the House. Bill on recording interrogations, reviewing young offender sentences moves in Senatelast_img read more