The case of a Navajo man charged with beating his girlfriend and hanging her by a rope outside their Arizona trailer home to make the attack look like a suicide attempt has reached the halls of Congresss, says the New York Times. It is part of a dispute within the Justice Department over a critical law enforcement question: Should interviews with criminal suspects be tape-recorded? Paul Charlton, the United States Attorney in Arizona, was ousted after spending months protesting a Federal Bureau of Investigation policy that bars the taping of almost all confessions, in contrast to the practice of many local law enforcement agencies.
Charlton blamed the FBI policy for a plea bargain in the Navajo 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 rape recorder recorder or video camera into an important tool in convictions. More than 450 law enforcement agencies in major cities and smaller jurisdictions require the taping of certain interrogations. The FBI has resisted the practice, on the theory that it may discourage suspects from talking and expose juries to interrogation methods that it would rather not highlight. The problem is acute in Arizona, a state with 21 Indian reservations, where federal law enforcement officials handle major felony cases. Charlton said differing investigative practices have resulted in two distinct criminal justice systems.