In a reversal, FBI will begin recording interviews

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In a reversal, FBI will begin recording interviews
Picture released on February 6, 1950 in Washington of John Edgar Hoover, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States, answering journalists after Klaus Fuchs's arrest. (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
OAK CREEK, WI - AUGUST 6: FBI specIal agent in charge, Teresa Carlson holds a photograph of a subject that the FBI wants to interview and is asking for any information as she speaks at a press conference on the shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin where yesterday a gunman fired upon people at service August, 6, 2012 in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. At least six people were killed when the shooter identified as Wade Michael Page opened fire on congregants in the Milwaukee suburb. The suspect who was a United States Army veteran was shot dead in a shootout with police. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)
Frederick Duquesne in office of Harry Sawyer, June 25, 19410101 one of a set of five photographs of spy Fritz Duquesne, seated, talking to Harry Sawyer, FBI interviewer. (Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
This Oct. 14, 2008 still video image released Monday, April 6, 2009 by the Orange/Osceola State Attorney's Office shows Casey Anthony, left, being interviewed by FBI agent Nick Savage at the Orange County Sheriffs Office in Orlando, Fla. Anthony calmly asserted to investigators during the interview that she believed her daughter, Caylee, was alive. (AP Photo/Orange Osceola State Attorney's Office, HAND OUT)
FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 21, 2014, before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on oversight of the FBI. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
UNITED STATES - MAY 21: Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., left, greets FBI Director James Comey after a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on oversight of the Bureau, May 21, 2014. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Members of a Federal Bureau of Investigation SWAT team are seen during an FBI field training exercise at the Landmark Mall May 2, 2014 in Alexandria, Virginia. The law enforcement agency held the training to practice responding to a terrorist attack in a public venue. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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By ERIC TUCKER
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Agents from the FBI and some other federal law enforcement agencies will soon begin recording interviews of suspects in custody under a new Justice Department directive that reverses long-standing policy, Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday.

The new policy, laid out in a memo issued last week by Deputy Attorney General James Cole, establishes a "presumption" that agents will record interviews with suspects who have been taken into custody but have not yet appeared in court. The policy, which is to take effect July 11, applies to agents from the FBI as well as the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Marshals Service.

The new standard replaces the FBI's current practice, in which agents interview suspects without recording them, take handwritten notes and then produce a report summarizing the conversation.

It addresses concerns from civil rights groups and defense lawyers who have long argued that the absence of recordings creates evidentiary problems, leaving too many ambiguities as to what precisely was said during the interviews whether agents' accounts are fully reliable.

"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 video message announcing the change. "It will allow us to document that detained individuals are afforded their constitutionally-protected rights."

He also said it would provide law enforcement with a "backstop" so that "they have clear and indisputable records of important statements and confessions made by individuals who have been detained."

The policy change allows for some exceptions, including if the suspect objects to the recording, if the recording is not practicable - such as if the equipment malfunctions - or if the information provided in the interview could jeopardize national security if disclosed. The memo, which was posted on the Arizona Republic website before the Justice Department formally announced it Thursday, encourages agents to make video recordings of interviews when possible but says audio recordings may be sufficient.

Though it represents a dramatic departure from existing policy, the new directive is also limited in scope since it applies only to interviews with suspects who have already been arrested and are in federal custody.

"I think it is a tremendous step forward by the department in recognizing that having an accurate record of what is said in the custodial interrogation is helpful, both to the government and to the defense," said Barry Pollack, a criminal defense lawyer in Washington and an officer of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He said one of the leading causes for false confessions is not having an accurate understanding of the context in which the statement was made.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, applauded the change, saying that recording interviews "will improve every aspect of our justice system."

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