Federal agents to reverse course on recorded interviews

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wwltv.com

Posted on May 27, 2014 at 6:24 PM

Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
Email: pmurphy@wwltv.com | Twitter: @pmurphywwl

NEW ORLEANS -- There will soon be less "lost in translation" between federal agents and many of the suspects they question.

They now have new orders to record interviews with suspects who have been taken into custody, but have not appeared in court. That reverses the long standing policy of not recording interviews.

For years defense attorneys and prosecutors have battled it out in federal court over access to agents' handwritten notes of the conversations. WWL-TV Legal Analyst Chick Foret said a recording takes away the uncertainty over what was actually said.

"Clearly, everyone now knows that the best evidence, the most reliable evidence, the most accurate evidence is a recording," said Foret. "My problem with note taking is, if we had five people in this room and they were all taking notes of our conversation, I think they would be substantially different."

Convicted, former Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown said the policy change is a step in the right direction.

"If they take handwritten notes, make them public," said Brown. "If you're going to have an interview, let it be recorded. Just lay it all out. We're trying to get justice, not trying to get someone."

Brown went to prison for six months for lying to the FBI about the liquidation of a financially troubled insurance company.

"There's absolutely no doubt in my mind, in the mind of any objective viewer that looked at the evidence, that if I would of had a recorded conversation, I never would have been found guilty," said Brown. "I would have never been charged in the first place."

Former FBI Special Agent In Charge Jim Bernazzani said the new directive is a sign of the times.

"I think the move protects the agents from allegations of misconduct by defense attorneys," said Bernazzani. "I think the move also protects the accused from perceptions of misconduct by FBI agents."

Bernazzani said there is also a downside.

"When you introduce a recording device before an interview, there's going to be a natural tendency on that person being interviewed to be much more conservative, more careful with his or her words and we may not illicit the information that we need," said Bernazzani.

Many would now like to see the new policy expand beyond custodial cases.

"I would like to have seen them go so far as to make the recordings policy during just regular interviews with potential witnesses or potential suspects," said Foret.

"It's too late for me, but it's going to help a lot of other innocent people in the future, quite frankly," said Brown.

The new policy kicks in July 11. The directive applies to agents from the FBI, as well as the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the U.S. Marshals Service.

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