The Bulletin

House GOP blocks bill that would ban police from falsifying documents in interrogations

By: - January 28, 2022 4:24 pm

House of Delegates members walk past the south portico around at the end of the veto session at the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond on April 22, 2020. Legislation passed the same year created Virginia’s new Office of the Children’s Ombudsman. ( Pool Photo by Bob Brown/ Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates voted down a bill Friday that would have made it illegal for police to forge documents to use in interrogations.

The legislation, proposed by Del. Jackie Glass, D-Norfolk, was inspired by revelations that in at least five interrogations police in Virginia Beach had shown suspects fake DNA reports on Virginia Department of Forensic Science letterhead.

“This bill is necessary to protect the integrity of our convictions,” Glass told the House subcommittee tasked with reviewing the bill.

Republicans, who hold a majority in the chamber, noted that police have long been allowed to lie to suspects during interrogations. They said that should include fake documents.

“How many times has this been used to find out about a murder, find out about a rape?” said Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick.

Prosecutors who testified were also divided on the bill. “We agree the Constitution allows the police to lie to people and sometimes this is a necessary investigative tool,” said Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Ramin Fatehi. “But forging documents goes too far.”

Madison County Commonwealth’s Attorney Clarissa Berry countered that the issue is already addressed by existing case law. “Whether or not a confession is coerced is a matter for the trial court to take up,” she said.

The legislation failed on a party-line vote, with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposing.

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.