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Reason.com Editorial: FBI Cuts Constitutional Corners, Breaks Law

Editorial
reason.com editorial

Does the FBI manifest fidelity, bravery, and integrity, or does it cut constitutional corners in order to incriminate? Can the FBI cut the cable television lines to your house and then show up pretending to be the cable guy and install listening devices? Can FBI agents and technicians testify falsely and cause the innocent to be convicted, incarcerated and, in some cases, executed?

In 2014, FBI agents in Las Vegas were on the trail of Wei Seng Phua, whom they believed was running an illegal gambling operation out of his hotel room at Caesars Palace. Instead of following him, asking questions about him, and using other traditional investigative techniques, a few agents came up with the idea of planting a wiretap in Phua’s hotel room.

They bribed a hotel employee, who gave them access to a place in the hotel where they could disable the cable television wires to Phua’s room. When he called for repair, they showed up pretending to be cable guys, and he let them into his room. They repaired what they had disabled, but they also illegally wiretapped the phones in the room. Then they overheard his telephone conversations about his illegal gambling, and they arrested him. A grand jury indicted him based on what was overheard.

The grand jury was not told of the wire cutting and the con job, but a federal judge was. Last week, he criticized the FBI for conducting an illegal search of Phua’s room, in direct contravention of the Fourth Amendment, which the agents swore to uphold, and he barred the government from using the tapes of the telephone conversations as evidence against Phua. If the government can get away with this, he ruled, then constitutional guarantees are meaningless.

These lawless agents should have been indicted by a state grand jury for breaking and entering by false pretense, but Caesars declined to seek their prosecution. No surprise.

It was surprising, however, when the FBI was forced to admit last week that in the 1980s and 1990s, its agents and lab technicians who examined hair samples testified falsely in 257 of 268 cases that resulted in convictions. Of the convictions, 18 persons were sentenced to death, and of those, 12 have been executed.

Some of these cases were federal, but most were state prosecutions in which state and county prosecutors hired the FBI to perform lab tests and compare hair samples from a crime scene with a defendant’s known hair sample. The faulty lab work and erroneous testimony destroyed the freedom of hundreds and the lives of 12, squandered millions in tax dollars, and impaired the constitutional values we all embrace.

To read more click here. 


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