Holder tells federal law enforcement agencies to record statements by suspects in custody

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Thursday directed federal law enforcement officers to electronically record all statements by suspects in federal custody before they appear in court.

The new policy — which applies to statements made by individuals in the custody of the FBI; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the U.S. Marshals Service — will take effect July 11. It allows for certain exceptions, Holder said, such as when suspects request that interviews not be recorded or when recording is not practical.

“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,” Holder said in a videotaped statement. “It will allow us to document that detained individuals are afforded their constitutionally protected rights. And it will also provide federal law enforcement officials with a backstop, so that they have clear and indisputable records of important statements and confessions made by individuals who have been detained.”

Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole sent a memo to all U.S. attorneys and federal law enforcement officers earlier this month encouraging agents to consider electronic recording in their investigations.

The new policy creates a “presumption that statements made by individuals in federal custody, after they have been arrested” but before their initial court appearance, will be electronically recorded. It encourages video recording “in a place of detention” whenever possible and audio recording when video is unavailable.

The FBI trains its agents at Quantico, Va., in specific interviewing techniques and has had a policy that prohibits the recording of suspects unless agents get approval from a supervisor.

“The presence of recording equipment may interfere with and undermine the successful rapport building interviewing technique which the FBI practices,” the FBI policy states.

But Holder said his new requirement will allow the Justice Department to document that individuals who are arrested are afforded their constitutional rights and “will not, in any way, compromise our ability to hold accountable those who break the law.”

“Nor will it impair our national security efforts,” Holder said. “On the contrary. It will reduce uncertainty in even the most sensitive cases, prevent unnecessary disputes and improve our ability to see that justice can be served.”

Sari Horwitz covers the Justice Department, after 30 years at the paper where she has been an investigative reporter and covered federal law enforcement, crime, education and social services.
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