There is nothing wrong with federal agencies working with local law enforcement. Unless the feds are passing along unlawfully obtained information or concealing their secret surveillance.
A recent court case has revealed a disturbing trend. Federal agents feed tips to state and local police who then make the bust. Those defendants and their lawyers typically are not aware of the questionable origins of their arrest. The appellate ruling has due process implications for those prosecuted for drug crimes and other charges.
Did the police really “get lucky” with that traffic stop?
A report by Human Rights Watch suggests that some federal agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Agency are doing an end run around the civil rights and due process rights of citizens suspected of criminal activity.
The report argues that federal authorities, along with local police and prosecutors, are not always forthcoming about wiretaps, computer surveillance, physical surveillance and other investigative methods, including drawing on NSA domestic surveillance programs.
Through such clandestine surveillance, the feds may already know or suspect there are drugs in a particular vehicle or residence. They pass on the info to local authorities, who then contrive some reason to make a traffic stop or search a vehicle, such as a minor driving violation. Thus a routine traffic stop becomes a drug arrest. This practice, known as a “whisper stop,” essentially amounts to a warrantless search.
9th Circuit shines a light on parallel prosecutions
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in February that the government must be more forthcoming about its surveillance programs and when such spying is shared with state or local law enforcement. The ACLU declared the ruling an important victory for accountability and transparency.
Human Rights Watch singled out the DEA for widespread use of “parallel construction” investigations that conceal the role of federal surveillance efforts. But the report said that the FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are also known to share information of dubious origins with local police and prosecutors. According to the report, these tactics are used on a daily basis to arrest citizens across the county.
Law enforcement personnel often feel that the end justifies the means if it interrupts drug trafficking and other criminal enterprise. And they are protective of their methods and sources, to stay a step ahead of “the bad guys.”
But criminal defense lawyers and advocates for civil liberties say that it’s unfair. If the information was legally obtained, there are ways to bring that into court without compromising informants or surveillance programs. They are asking tougher questions about why police decided to stop or search certain vehicles, and challenging such arrests in court.
Source: Report Alleges Police Use Secret Evidence Collected By Feds To Make Arrests (NPR.org)