In 2009, a South Florida man walked out of prison after spending 26 years there for a crime he didn’t commit.
The case against Anthony Caravella sounded solid to a jury back in 1983. Jurors actually heard a recording of Caravella confessing to the rape of a 58-year-old woman.
But what jurors didn’t hear was everything that led up to that confession — a five-day period where cops badgered and grilled Caravella until he did so.
Caravella was 15 years old at the time … with an IQ of 67.
75% of high school seniors are accepted to their first-choice college, but only half can afford to go.
And though the teen had originally professed his innocence and described three other men he saw commit the crime, police hadn’t recorded all that; just the final confession that Caravella’s lawyers said he was coerced and threatened into giving.
In 2009, DNA evidence proved someone else committed the rape. And Caravella was freed.
It was just the latest in a long string of wrongful convictions in Florida. And the next year, the state created an Innocence Commission to find ways Florida might stop imprisoning people for crimes they didn’t commit.
One of the recommendations was to require law enforcement to record all suspect interrogations, with the commission saying: “The most commonly advocated method to reduce false confessions is to require that confessions be electronically recorded.”
Twenty-three other states already do this. So do some Florida departments, voluntarily.
Yet years later, Florida has failed to act.
In the state Senate, Republicans and Democrats have united to support a proposal to require recorded interrogations.
But the bill has gone nowhere in the House, thanks to Republicans in that chamber … which is sickeningly ironic.
House Republicans, after all, love to grandstand about crime and punishment and the need for executions. House Speaker Richard Corcoran and rank-and-file members such as Bob Cortes and Scott Plakon have repeatedly berated Orange-Osceola prosecutor Aramis Ayala, for instance, for not trying to execute more convicted people.
Yet they have staged no similar press conferences to make sure Florida is convicting the right people in the first place.
That’s staggering in a state with more overturned death-penalty convictions than any other in America.
Punishment without accuracy isn’t justice. It’s merely bloodlust.
Former Judge Belvin Perry, who led the state’s Innocence Commission, said recording interrogations is common sense in the digital age. “It makes the process more transparent,” he said.
And it’s not simply about distrusting cops. If you loathe the idea of a sleazy defense attorney trying to manufacture doubt in the case of a guilty criminal, you want this as well.
After all, if the interrogation was done properly, then a recording denies the defendant the chance to say it was coerced. “That argument becomes a nonstarter,” Perry said.
Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, the Tampa Bay-area sponsor of Senate Bill 1220, says the law is overdue. “It’s 2018,” he said. “If we have standards for body cameras, we should have them for interrogations.”
Brandes also noted the bill isn’t overly burdensome. It only applies to the serious crimes — such as rape, murder, robbery, child abuse, stalking and other things that could put suspects away for long periods of time. And it primarily appears to situations where suspects are in custody. You could actually make a case for stronger standards. But this is still a solid start.
Michelle Feldman, a lobbyist with the Innocence Project, said the recordings are good for everyone involved. “When you have them, there’s no dispute about what happened in the interrogation,” she said. “You just play the tape for the jury.”
Unfortunately, the Innocence Project said the Florida Police Chiefs Association has opposed recording mandates. And while the chiefs association declined to provide any comment or explanation, House members seem to be responding with inaction. The bill has gone nowhere in the criminal justice subcommittee, chaired by Riverview Republican Ross Spano.
Considering that Spano wants to run for attorney general, he’d do well to prove he cares about both the accuracy and efficiency of the state’s justice system.
So should Gov. Rick Scott, Corcoran, Cortes, Plakon and the others who clamor for executions.
“Really,” Brandes said, “this is just a minimal standard.”
That’s why so many states, big and small, red and blue — from Texas and New York to Utah and Maine — already require it.
And why Florida is way overdue, according to it’s very own commission.