By Senator Alice Nitka, Windsor County
February 12, 2010
One of many bills being studied in the Senate Judiciary Committee is S-153.
This bill proposes to 1. Require law enforcement agencies to make a video or audio recording of custodial interrogations of criminal suspects;
2. Require biological evidence secured in connection with a criminal case to be retained by the government for the period of time that the person is incarcerated, on probation or parole, or subject to registration as sex offender and
3. Create a forensic lab oversight commission. The biological evidence piece is likely to be modified to only pertain to the 13 listed crimes some of which are kidnapping, murder, manslaughter, sexual assault and robbery with a dangerous weapon.
In 2009, approximately 40 percent of felony cases that went to trial in Vermont resulted in convictions and only 36 percent of misdemeanants cases that were tried resulted in convictions. A small number of cases resulted in mistrials per information from Matthew Valerio, the State Defender General. Approximately 90 percent of all cases that come to the court system result in plea bargains and not trials. The goal of S-153 purports to bring about better outcomes in these matters, and ease the burden on law enforcement with respect to bulk evidence.
Evidence collection, preservation, storage and tracking are major issues for the 53 municipal police departments in the state, the State Police, Game Wardens, the courts other police personnel and the State Forensic Lab.
Best practices for preservation of evidence as developed by the lab are taught at the Police Academy which trains all the law enforcement officers that are certified in the state. Where to put all the "stuff" collected is a real problem plus the specific requirements that might be required for biological or arson evidence from controlled temperatures to warehouse space.