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.
- Michael S. Schmidt, In Policy Change, Justice Dept. to Require Recording of Interrogations, New York Times (May 22, 2014).
- Ryan J. Reily, Eric Holder: ‘Sweeping’ New FBI Recording Policy Will Protect Both Suspects, Agents, Huffington Post (May 22, 2014).
- Dennis Wagner, DOJ Reverses No-Recording Policy for Interrogations, USA Today (May 21, 2014).