WASHINGTON -- In a major shift, the Justice Department has done away with a longstanding policy that forbade federal agents from recording statements made by criminal suspects in their custody. The policy gave the Justice Department a massive advantage over criminal defendants, ensuring that the use of coercive tactics or ignored requests for an attorney during an interrogation, for example, would not be preserved for the record.
But now, starting on July 11, federal agents with the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Marshals Service will be required -- with some exceptions -- to record interrogations of criminal suspects in their custody. The policy shift was first reported by The Arizona Republic.
Monty Wilkinson, director of the Executive Office of United States Attorneys, wrote in a memo on May 12 that the new policy is the result of the "collaborative and lengthy efforts of a working group comprised of several United States Attorneys and representatives from the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, EOUSA, the Criminal Division, and the National Security Division, as well as the General Counsel, or their representatives, from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the United States Marshals Service."
The new policy, laid out in a memo by Deputy Attorney General James Cole, creates the "presumption that the custodial statement of an individual in a place of detention with suitable recording equipment, following arrest but prior to initial appearance, will be electronically recorded" except under a few special circumstances. The policy "strongly encourages the use of video recording" and does not apply to interviews when suspects are not in custody, though it encourages agents and prosecutors to consider recording those interactions as well.
Former U.S. Attorney for Arizona Mel McDonald, now a defense attorney, told The Arizona Republic that it was "a no-brainer" to reverse what he described as "an insane policy."
In a statement, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers President Jerry J. Cox said that recording interrogations "protects the accused against police misconduct, protects law enforcement against false allegations, and protects public safety by ensuring a verbatim record of the interrogation process and any statements."
Read the full memo, obtained by The Huffington Post, below.