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In recent years, more and more stories have come to light that show federal agents have used secret surveillance and investigative techniques designed to protect national security instead to pursue drug offenders.
Among the secret programs in operation in recent years was one run by the Drug Enforcement Administration that took information from wiretaps, confidential informants, intelligence intercepts, and a phone records database to investigate American citizens suspected of drug crimes. What’s particularly troublesome about this program is that documents obtained in an investigation by the news agency Reuters showed that DEA agents were being trained to cover up that they got the information in these means, and instead to create a parallel trail of evidence.
One practice reported by Reuters is that investigators would use information from a tip reported to the DEA’s Special Operations Division to make traffic stops of suspect vehicles and use drug-sniffing dogs to make searches. However, when making an arrest the investigators would pretend that they started with the traffic stop. The original tip would never be disclosed.
Another significant part of the secret DEA investigation program involved collecting international U.S. phone records in a large database, estimated to have 1 billion records. The DEA would use the phone records — collected for the purposes of national security — to link people to domestic crimes, according to Reuters.
It’s a fundamental right in our nation that people accused of crimes have the right to a fair trial, and a critical part of a fair trial is the ability to examine and challenge the evidence being used against them. When the source of an investigation is hidden, then a defendant can’t properly interrogate the evidence or witnesses against him — and that means that a trial resulting from this type of secret DEA investigation is inherently unfair. In the example of a tip leading to a traffic stop, a defendant has the right to know about that tip and to have access to any information that might be relevant to his or her defense.
Since the Reuters investigation became public, more and more criminal defense lawyers are challenging the use of parallel reconstruction in DEA investigations, and demanding access to all of the evidence used to build a case against people accused of drug crimes. Additionally, the DEA said in January that it has stopped collecting bulk phone records, and deleted the data.
However, the existence of this secret DEA investigation program, which goes back to the 1990s, raises serious questions about the violation of citizens’ constitutional rights in criminal investigations by law enforcement.
If you’ve been charged with a crime, the experienced Columbus criminal defense attorneys at Luftman, Heck & Associates can discuss your situation and your options for a defense. Call us today at for a free consultation.