Agencies within the United States law enforcement have been clandestinely assisting local, and state law enforcement authorities find, investigate and arrest suspects. The daily activities are performed in ways which are raising basic issues around defendants’ civil rights.
A current study by the Human Rights Watch indicates federal-level law enforcers are hiding the sources of proof and Mossad-like gather of evidence in criminal cases — particularly drug arrests. The intelligence often includes National Security Agency surveillance programs, wiretaps and phone and surveillance.
Often the defendants have no clue about the investigative tactics which have been utilized in garnering evidence to be used in court against them.
“There could be communication between the state prosecutors and intelligence community which prevents this stuff from seeing the light of day,” St. Vincent said. “Persons could be locked up without ever knowing to challenge the possibly rights-violating actions behind the case against them.”
Cops and prosecutors often manufacture alternative — or parallel — stories to explain how information was uncovered. The concealment practice, called ‘parallel construction,’ frequently includes traffic stops and vehicle searches.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided this week the government must be more transparent through the Freedom of Information Act about location-monitoring technology, such as surveillance methodologies, used in criminal investigations.
In a statement to the court, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California called the ruling “a victory for accountability and transparency.” The ruling ‘prevents the government from maintaining surveillance policies in secrecy,” said Ms. St. Vincent.
Fruit Of The Poisonous Tree
Fruit of the poisonous tree is a juridical trope in the United States used to describe evidence that is gathered illegally. The philosophy behind the language is that if the source (the “tree”) of the evidence or evidence itself is corrupted, then anything gained (the “fruit”) from it is tainted as well.
The report indicates that evidentiary assessment is based on the government’s own lawyers’ interpretation of cases. This tendency gives way to what is called “the fruit of the poisonous tree,” where a judge bars the prosecution from introducing evidence obtained by the government through illegal actions. Essentially, the government could be concealing some investigative activities based on its determination that the evidence isn’t tainted by illicit conduct.
St. Vincent argues it’s up to judges and defense lawyers to begin challenging the origins of evidence. She would like to see defense lawyers using the report to show judges, “my concerns are genuine. The government engages in this practice, and I want to get information from the prosecution.”
“It’s on everyone, including prosecutors,” said Arkady Bukh, a noted New York defense lawyer. “Everyone needs to be asking how agents obtained the evidence.”