New rules announced for some federal criminal investigations

Although there can be overlap between state and federal crimes, one notable difference is sentencing. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines may impose more serious penalties than an equivalent offense under Georgia state law.

However, an attorney that focuses on federal crimes knows that it may sometimes be possible to depart from those guidelines, depending on the circumstances. For example, a first-time offender might be better positioned to make a case for mitigating factors.

Fortunately, not everything associated with a federal criminal investigation is harsher. According to a recent announcement, several federal law enforcement agencies have started a new policy of videotaping interviews or interrogations with suspects they have in custody. The list of agencies includes the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The policy is intended to provide transparency to interrogation techniques. One concern is that certain defendants might be intimidated into making a false confession. Yet even this procedural protection might have a flipside. According to one commentator, a recording that does not include the interrogator in its frame does not permit jurors to fully evaluate whether the questioning was improper or coercive. In addition, some criminal defendants may still be at risk for false confessions. If caught on video, a jury may ignore all other evidence besides that false confession, possibly resulting in an unfair outcome.

A criminal defense attorney with experience in federal and state criminal trials will have insight into defense strategies. An attorney knows that the tactics used to procure testimonial evidence may sometimes provide more of a defense argument than the actual testimony, possibly leading to a ruling of its inadmissibility.

Source: The New York Times, “Can a Jury Believe What It Sees?” Jennifer L. Mnookin, July 13, 2014