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Tue Jan 9, 2018, 01:13 AM

Interview: When the US Government Hides Evidence

January 9, 2018 12:00AM EST

US Government Can Construct Stories to Hide Illegal Searches

The US government can use evidence that it may have obtained illegally – from methods ranging from old-fashioned wiretaps to sophisticated data sweeps – to prosecute people without telling them how it got the evidence. Because the government wants to keep the source of this illegally obtained information secret, it concocts an alternative story to cover it up. This process, called “parallel construction,” is undermining the US judicial system. Researcher Sarah St.Vincent talks about her new report with Amy Braunschweiger, detailing the danger parallel construction creates for everyone in the US and why it needs to stop.

What does parallel construction look like?

We identified a case in Arizona where government officials illegally tracked a suspect’s rental car with a GPS device they’d secretly installed without a warrant. Then the federal official contacted the police near Flagstaff, Arizona, and told them to find a reason to pull over and search the car. So the local police pulled the person over, using the temporary paper license plate in the window as an excuse. They then used a drug-detecting dog to sniff the car and found drugs.

In the US we have a concept that’s called “the fruit of the poisonous tree.” That means prosecutors are not supposed to be allowed to enter anything stemming from an illegal search into evidence in court. If we let the government use something illegally gathered at trial, there’s little incentive for law enforcement to obey the law.


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