News Release ~ 08/05/2013

Nation’s Criminal Defense Bar Alarmed by Reports of NSA Surveillance Data Use and Intentional, Systematic Non-Disclosure in Domestic, Non-Terror-Related Criminal Cases

Washington, DC (August 5, 2013) – Today, Reuters news service reported that “A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.” Reuters further reports that it has undated documents that “show that federal agents are trained to ‘recreate’ the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant's Constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don't know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence - information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses.” And late yesterday, The Houston Chronicle reported that “The National Security Agency is handing the Justice Department information, derived from its secret electronic eavesdropping programs, about suspected criminal activity unrelated to terrorism[,]” including in cases alleging conduct including sex offenses and corporate criminal activity under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The information sharing programs reported by Reuters and The Houston Chronicle over the last 24 hours are yet further examples of the national security state seeping into the traditional justice system. 

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) President Jerry J. Cox said: “NACDL has long feared that overbroad national security policies would become the norm for all criminal prosecutions and today we know our concerns were not unfounded. Two months after Edward Snowden’s initial disclosures about various U.S. government surveillance activities, we know very little more about the parameters of the NSA surveillance programs. These latest reports are particularly troubling for accused persons who cannot vindicate fundamental constitutional rights without access to accurate and complete information. This puts liberty at risk of being lost without due process of law, which is an affront to the Constitution.”

Indeed, there are further, significant Constitutional implications to these reports. In the American criminal justice system, prosecutors are required to disclose all information in the government’s possession that is favorable to the accused, pertaining to either the determination of guilt or imposition of sentencing. These reports suggest that prosecuting government agencies are provided data collected via seemingly limitless NSA surveillance programs that the American people have been repeatedly told have stringent safeguards and exist only for the purpose of gathering information about international terrorists. Additionally, the Reuters report indicates that programs of intentional non-disclosure of the actual sources of information in connection with non-terror-related activity may be in place. Yet, those accused of criminal activity have no access to any exculpatory information collected by these NSA programs.

NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer said: “I reiterate NACDL’s statement last month that the time has long passed for the government to provide full disclosure of the complete nature and extent of these surveillance programs. And with these recent disclosures in the last day, it is all the more important that Congress act swiftly to ensure the government discloses all information favorable to the accused, as required by the Due Process Clause. If prosecutorial agencies are given access to this data to bring criminal charges, they must also discharge their duty to provide favorable information to the defense."

Please contact Ivan J. Dominguez, Director of Public Affairs & Communications, (202) 465-7662 or idominguez@nacdl.org for more information.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's approximately 10,000 direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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