Last year, the Department of Justice quietly ordered the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to record their interrogations electronically, with audio or video recording devices. Lawyers and legal experts welcomed this development, which was widely believed to be years overdue.
Prior to this game-changing decision, the FBI had a free hand at interrogating people without recording it. They would take down notes and collate them in a Form 302, which could become the basis for testimonies in court. As many people who were opposed to this system pointed out, without electronic recordings, testimonies and statements could be open to misinterpretation and error; and in fact, could be the result of coercion or intimidation.
In court, Form 302 documents were hard to contest, as testifying differently from what was recorded in the documents could be construed as lying to a federal officer, which could merit between five and eight years in prison.
The reversal of the practice highlights how critical statements given to the authorities are in a legal dispute. With this in mind, it pays to have a lawyer present when you talk to the police or federal agents. The police and federal agents are experts at interrogations, sometimes leading you to say things you ought not to say. While a recording device ensures accuracy of statements used in a case, it can also prove detrimental to you if you say the wrong things. A criminal defense lawyer can protect you from incriminating yourself.