Monday, April 02, 2007

FBI Doesn't Want Jurors To See How They Get Confessions

In the midst of the U.S. Attorney firings scandal, the New York Times has uncovered a fascinating little tidbit. Apparently, one of the fired prosecutors got the FBI all up-in-arms because he challenged a policy that forbids FBI agents from recording interrogations with suspects without supervisor approval. That's right--they're forbidden from preserving an accurate record of the interrogation. Why? Well, that's where it gets even better. Apparently, one of the major "legitimate" policy reasons put forward by the FBI is that jurors might not like what they see:

Psychological tricks like misleading or lying to a suspect in questioning or pretending to show the suspect sympathy might also offend a jury, the agency said. “Perfectly lawful and acceptable interviewing techniques do not always come across in recorded fashion to lay persons as proper means of obtaining information from defendants,” said one of the once-secret internal Justice Department communications made public as part of the investigation into the dismissals of the United States attorneys.

Interesting. So, they don't want jurors to see precisely what they do to obtain confessions because they think the jurors might find what they do "improper," even though it's not. Or, maybe, because the jurors, upon seeing the actual interrogation process, might be more inclined to believe defense assertions that the confession was false. It is very true that lying to suspects and applying extreme psychological pressure are "perfectly lawful," but it's also true that use of these techniques can result in false confessions, and that the average juror doesn't have an understanding of how these techniques play out. And the FBI doesn't ever want them to.

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Anonymous BitterCynic said...

The FBI officially does not record interrogations or interviews. The agent takes notes, and afterwards writes up a 302, which is the agent's 'impressions' of what was said. The 302 is taken as the content of the interview, and the subject never gets to see what he is supposed to have said. The 302 is the official record, and is taken as sworn testimony. (Talk about putting words into somebody's mouth.)

At the same time, the FBI bugs everyone it can, including its own people. These warrantless wiretaps are known as 'intel' (i.e., useful information) but won't be used as evidence in court. Once the illegal spying gets them what they need to know, they can get warrants for taps to pick up recaps of earlier discussions they will then use as evidence for prosecution. The strategy here is to never be surprised by the results of a warranted wiretap: always know what you're going to get before you ask permission to get it. This policy always makes you look good to the judges.

4/02/2007 9:36 AM  
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