Sunday, April 1, 2007
A brutal crime on a Navajo reservation in Arizona has intensified the debate over whether suspect interviews should be tape recorded. The crime involves a Navajo man charged with beating his girlfriend nearly to death and then hanging her by a rope outside their Arizona trailer home to make the attack look like a suicide attempt.
Paul K. Charlton, the United States attorney in Arizona, was ousted after spending months protesting a FBI policy that, for practical purposes, forbids the taping of almost all confessions, in stark contrast to the practice of many local law enforcement agencies in Arizona and other locations across the country.
Mr. Charlton blamed the F.B.I. policy for the resulting plea bargain in the Navajo reservation assault case, as well as the acquittal of a defendant in a child sexual abuse case and a suspect in a prison murder indictment.
Eight states, by law or court action, mandate taping of interviews with suspects in at least serious felony cases, turning a tape recorder or video camera into an important tool in convictions, like DNA tests, fingerprints and ballistics. More than 450 law enforcement agencies in major cities and smaller jurisdictions also require the taping of certain interrogations. The FBI, however, has strenuously resisted the practice unless special permission is granted by supervisors, under the theory that it may discourage suspects from talking and expose juries to interrogation methods that the department would rather not highlight.
But many prosecutors believe that the inability to tape suspects, especially those accused of sexual abuse and domestic violence, can seriously compromise a case. Story here from NYTimes.com. . . [Michele Berry]