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U.S. Justice Department to Record Custodial Interrogations Under New Policy

U.S. Justice Department to Record Custodial Interrogations Under New Policy

Ain’t it better for everyone this way?

For years, the resistance to it has rung more and more hollow. Finally, on May 12, the Justice Department established a new policy that favors the electronic recording of all interviews taken with a suspect in custody, and which encourages agents and prosecutors to tape outside that context as well. The policy establishes a presumption that investigating agencies will electronically record statements made by people during custodial interrogations. Yes, there are exceptions, but the basic policy brings the Department in line with basic, sound practice in the modern world.

The policy was established by way of memorandum to the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation); the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration); the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives); the Marshals Service (USMS); and the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The memorandum was also forwarded to all U.S. Attorneys for circulation to line prosecutors in their offices.

The policy favors video recording in particular but prefers an audio recording to nothing. The major exceptions are for public safety and national security as well as circumstances in which recording the interview is not “reasonably practicable.” That last one may sound loosey-goosey, but it’s intended to apply to things like equipment malfunction, an unexpected need to move the interview, or an extraordinary case of multiple interviews in a limited timeframe where there aren’t enough recording devices.

The policy goes into effect July 11, 2014. For a link to the memorandum itself, go here. For a state-by-state compendium of laws on the electronic recording of custodial interrogations, see here.

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