Minnesota - Recording Interrogations Compendium

Information on the policy and history of recording custodial interrogations in Minnesota.

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Summary

Minnesota has a Supreme Court ruling requiring recording of custodial interrogations.

Supreme Court Ruling

Citation:  State v. Scales, 518 N.W.2d 587 (Minn. 1994).

General rule (518 N.W.2d at 592): “…in the exercise of our supervisory power to insure the fair administration of justice, we hold that all custodial interrogation including any information about rights, any waiver of those rights, and all questioning shall be electronically recorded where feasible and must be recorded when questioning occurs at a place of detention.”  

Consequences of unexcused failure to record (518 N.W.2d at 592): “If law enforcement officers fail to comply with this recording requirement, any statements the suspect makes in response to the interrogation may be suppressed at trial . . . suppression will be required of any statements obtained in violation of the recording requirement if the violation is deemed ‘substantial.’ This determination is to be made by the trial court after considering all relevant circumstances bearing on substantiality, including those set forth in § 150.3(2) and (3) of the Model Code of Pre-Arraignment Procedure. If the court finds a violation not to be substantial, it shall set forth its reason for such finding.”

Preservation: None given.

Other Minnesota Cases

State v. Conger, 652 N.W.2d 704, 705, 706, 708 (Minn. 2002): Douglas Conger was charged with criminal sexual conduct. A police officer who spoke with Conger in an unrecorded, noncustodial interview at a police station testified at trial that Conger made incriminating statements during the interview. Conger was convicted. He appealed, claiming the trial court should have excluded his incriminating statements, and the Minnesota Supreme Court should “extend the holding of Scales to require that police record noncustodial interrogations of suspects in police stations.” The Court declined to extend Scales, but noted “Conger argues that there is a serious loophole in Scales because police control the decision when to place a person in custody, and they can delay that decision to avoid the recording requirement. We recognize this potential for abuse of Scales. We also recognize that recording noncustodial interrogations when feasible would be beneficial. It would protect the due process rights of suspects by providing a record that establishes precisely what was said, and provides a basis to determine if and when their interrogation became custodial, and whether any statements were the result of coercion.”

In 2009, Justice Paul H. Anderson, concurring in State v. Sanders, 775 N.W.2d 883, 889-90 (Minn. 2009), wrote:

…When we adopted the Scales rule in 1994, we were only the second state in the nation to adopt this approach. Our decision to adopt the Scales rule was greeted with considerable skepticism and dissent. Over the years, the wisdom of our decision has been proven and many law enforcement officials now heartily endorse recorded interrogations as an effective law enforcement tool.

Scales has significantly reduced the number of law enforcement issues confronting the courts. When I first joined our court, we were still dealing with many pre-Scales cases challenging Miranda warnings given by police officers. It was fairly routine for a defendant to question the propriety of an officer’s Miranda warning. The use of Scales has revealed, in the vast majority of cases, the competence and general conscientiousness with which police officers in Minnesota advise defendants of their rights under Miranda. As a result, in recent years, we have very few valid Miranda challenges that have come to our court. This is a good development.

Further, the use of Scales has in many cases eliminated frivolous and unfounded objections by defendants as to the circumstances surrounding their interrogation. While law enforcement initially feared that by having interrogations recorded it would lose an effective component of its interrogation of defendants, the opposite is true. Not only has Scales revealed that in almost all cases law enforcement does a conscientious job when conducting an interrogation, the recorded interrogation frequently turns out to be some of the best evidence against the defendant. In essence, Scales has resulted in the best of both worlds. The defendant’s rights are protected and law enforcement is more effective.

State v. Chavarria-Cruz, 784 N.W.2d 355, 365 (Minn. 2010): The defendant was indicted and tried for murder.  He argued that his confession should have been suppressed because during his custodial interrogation, which was audio recorded, he invoked his constitutional right to a lawyer.  The interrogation was audio taped.  The trial court and Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s argument.  The Supreme Court wrote that the tape recording revealed the defendant said something that sounded like, “I’m cooperating here.  I could just be like, you know, get me a lawyer.”  The Supreme Court ruled that “Chavarria-Cruz’s reference to wanting a lawyer can clearly be heard – a fact that [detective] Hanson himself later conceded upon listening to the tape.”  The Court concluded that the defendant “expressed himself sufficiently clearly that a reasonable officer would have heard his request for a lawyer,” therefore the questioning should have ceased, and since it did not, the courts below erred in denying the motion to suppress the confession, and ordered a new trial.

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