Tagged: legal ethics

DOJ Adopts New Policy Requiring Electronic Recording of Statements

The Justice Department has announced a new policy that will require federal law enforcement agencies to electronically record interviews with suspects.  According to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.,

Creating an electronic record will ensure that we have an objective account of key investigations and interactions with people who are held in federal custody. It will allow us to document that detained individuals are afforded their constitutionally protected rights.

The new policy will require federal law enforcement agencies to record interactions with a detained suspect during the time between the suspect’s arrest and initial appearance before a judge. Notably, the new policy also suggests that officials should consider using electronic recording devices during other investigative situations, including witness interviews.

This is a stark change from the Department’s prior policy, which expressively prohibited the use of recording equipment by law enforcement agencies when conducting interviews with suspects. The Justice Department was previously concerned that the use of recording devices would undermine investigative techniques of federal agencies, and would discourage suspects from talking. The Department also once expressed that jurors may frown upon FBI interviewing techniques, and have “unfavorable impressions of agents” had they heard verbatim accounts of such interrogations.

Mr. Holder discounted these concerns, explaining that federal officials should be more committed to a process that exemplifies evenhanded enforcement of the law, and the new policy would “provide verifiable evidence that our words are matched by our deeds.” He noted that it is of great importance for federal agencies to ensure that the statements of suspects are accurately recorded, and that suspects are afforded their constitutional rights during interrogations with federal agents.

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers President Jerry J. Cox was pleased to hear about the Justice Department’s policy change, noting that the use of electronic recording during interviews

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.

Mr. Holder has already begun the implementation of the new policy, and has instructed United States attorneys and agency field offices to begin training sessions. As of July, the new policy will apply to the FBI, DEA, ATF and U.S. Marshals Service.


Does this Government Conduct “Shock the Conscience of the Ninth Circuit?”

The Ninth Circuit recently upheld a due process challenge to an ATF sting that targeted the poorest minority neighborhoods in Phoenix to court individuals – with a promise of riches – to break into and rob local fictitious, non-existent stash houses.  Many of these individuals had no criminal records; almost all were out of work and poor.

Pace Professor Bennett L. Gershman analyzes the ATF’s penchant for creating fictitious crimes (see e.g., Operation Fast and Furious) in a recent Huffington Post column.  Click here to read the entire post.

A New International Focus on the Death Penalty

The botched execution in Oklahoma last week has drawn international attention.  Few countries still employ the death penalty, and the barbarity of the procedure is old news to our European Union colleagues.

The argument against the death penalty may be decided by – what else – money.  Pharmaceutical companies are refusing to produce the drugs needed for orderly executions and the botched Oklahoma execution may be an example of what will follow.

Prof. Lissa Griffin of Pace Law School recently published a blog on this subject.  Click here to read it in its entirety.

Related Reading

Security and Privacy for Every Attorney

BY: Steven Lapkoff

Data security has become an important issue for the legal world. Whether you are a tech-savvy law student or a veteran attorney without much experience online, now is a good time to think about the safety of your files and your clients’ information. In the free-for-all of the Internet, even privileged attorney-client communications are not always respected as such (as this article from The Guardian on the GCHQ – the UK’s equivalent of the NSA – makes clear).

These dangers shift the burden of responsibility to the individual attorney to ensure that, short of keeping locked stacks of paper files and certified letters, client information remains confidential.

Nearly once a week since the start of the summer, news headlines have been disclosing in increasing detail the efforts of the National Security Administration to access personal communications (email, instant messaging, and cloud-based data) of nearly every Internet user. Most recently, a Washington Post article revealed that not even your contact list is safe.

This has understandably set off a round of security-related concern in the IT world, with even Google scrambling to encrypt data stored on the popular Google Drive service, as companies fear the possible legal ramifications of allowing their users’ data to be accessed. Some of these questions have been discussed in an excellent article in the New York Law Journal, by Richard Raysman and Peter Brown.

Recently, a small change to Comment 8 of the ABA’s Model Rule 1.1 “serve[s] as a reminder to lawyers that they should remain aware of technology, including the benefits and risks associated with it, as part of a lawyer’s general ethical duty to remain competent.” See this recent article from Inside Counsel for a thorough discussion of the full implications of such an emphasis.

This change strengthens the confidentiality requirements of Model Rule 1.6, whose comments also include language regarding “reasonable efforts to prevent the access or disclosure” (see Comment 18 and 19), but do not specifically mention encryption. Perhaps in light of the recent disclosures, it will be an issue specifically addressed in the future.

So, where to start out if talk of bits and bytes is foreign to you? The ABA has a useful information page about many different methods of securing your information and email with encryption. However, there’s no need to spend a lot of money (or sometimes any at all) to get into the basics of staying safe.

First, I recommend losing the memory stick. Many of us have gone through several of the key-sized devices, either dropping them from a backpack or leaving them in a library. Instead, look at one of the many “cloud”-based services, such as DropBox, that allow you to access your files anywhere there is an internet connection. The cloud-based services have recently gotten a bad rap for their security, so I use a nifty free app called SafeMonk as an extra layer of encryption for everything I put into DropBox.

Second, if you have an email to a client that contains particularly sensitive information, think about encrypting your email. If you are a Gmail user, SecureGmail is a free ad-on that brings encryption seamlessly into your email composition. There are (more complicated) options for Outlook as well.

Finally, if you have large files on a hard drive, TrueCrypt is a free, open-source software that can help you get started.

Using encryption is certainly not required to represent client’s effectively, but “smart lawyers will realize that obtaining technological proficiency directly will not only help them satisfy the mandate of Model Rule 1.1, but also will empower them to serve as stronger advocates on behalf of their clients and result in competitive advantages.” (Inside Counsel).

Disciplining Prosecutors

The California State Bar has recommended disbarment for a prosecutor, John Michael Alexander, based on misconduct that included failing to disclose exculpatory materials and lying about it.  Apparently, this prosecutor  had prior disciplinary cases based on misconduct.  This recommendation follows two other California disciplinary sanctions on prosecutors: one who was suspended for four years, and another who received a public reproval.

Three cases may not make a trend, but this may be a development worth watching. To read more, see the following: