WASHINGTON, May 22 (UPI) -- The FBI and other major U.S. law enforcement agencies will begin videotaping interviews with suspects July 11, the Justice Department said Thursday.
The announcement came after the Arizona Republic reported on a May 12 department memo on the change in policy. While agents in the past have been barred from recording interviews, under the new policy videotaping will be required in most circumstances.
The policy applies to FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Marshals Service. While the change applies directly to suspects, it also says agents are encouraged to record video of interviews with witnesses.
The memo specifically says that in cases affecting national security there is "no presumption" of videotaping.
"Federal agents and prosecutors throughout the nation are firmly committed to due process in their rigorous and evenhanded enforcement of the law," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a videotaped statement Thursday. "This new recording policy not only reaffirms our steadfast commitment to these ideals -- it will provide verifiable evidence that our words are matched by our deeds."
In Arizona, under President George W. Bush, U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton was fired after protesting the ban on videotaping. Charlton said juries acquitted two defendants who had confessed to violent crimes because there was no videotape of their interrogations.
Mel McDonald, a former U.S. attorney for Arizona who now practices criminal defense, told the Republic the old policy was "insane." He said FBI agents were free to lie to jurors about what happened in interviews.
"I've had more clients who told me, 'That's not what I said,' " McDonald said. "But you've got two agents supporting each other. It's your word against theirs. Who are they going to believe?"
Experts say the change also protects honest agents.