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Memo from Deputy Attorney General James Cole reverses a century-old policy

New policy will apply to FBI, DEA, U.S. Marshals Service and ATF

Exceptions include national security or intelligence interviews

Washington CNN —  

The Justice Department is about to reverse a century of resistance to technology, requiring that federal agents record interviews of most suspects under arrest.

It’s a policy change that the department, at the behest of agents, has resisted for decades.

A memorandum from Deputy Attorney General James Cole, first reported Wednesday by the Arizona Republic, says that beginning July 11, “There is a presumption that the custodial statement of an individual in a place of detention with suitable recording equipment, following arrest but prior to initial appearance, will be electronically recorded.”

The Justice Department's policy will apply to the FBI, ATF, DEA and U.S. Marshals Service.

The policy will apply to the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; and U.S. Marshals Service.

Cole’s memo was issued without any public notice on May 12.

U.S. law enforcement officials confirmed the authenticity of the memo. The Justice Department declined to comment.

There are exceptions. Those include national security or intelligence interviews or those done under the public safety exception to the requirement that suspects be read their Miranda rights. And it also doesn’t apply to interviews of suspects before arrest.

Recorded interviews are common practice among state and local police departments nationwide. Even inside the Justice Department, the inspector general’s office records interviews.

But until the Cole memo, Justice Department policy discouraged recorded interviews for decades, in part because of fears that it could aid defendants on trial.

That meant that even in high-profile trials, juries are often treated to the spectacle of FBI or other agents having to testify about what their hand-scribbled notes taken during interviews were supposed to mean.

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