Strengthening Criminal Justice Investigative Techniques for Terrorism

First Day of Study Tour in Washington DC - July 8, 2019

On the first day of our study tour on the Strengthening Criminal Justice Investigative Techniques for Terrorism Cases including narcotics, public corruption and other cases, we started off with a discussion and overview of the mission and programs of the Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training. It was followed by a highly technical but interesting sessions on cybercrime evidence gathering by a Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Section of the Criminal Division, US Department of Justice. The analyst explained to us the various techniques in digital forensics, the variety of digital evidence and ways on how to obtain them. Participants in the study tour come from the Senate and House of Representatives, the Judiciary, the Prosecution Service, the Dept of Justice and the PNP. The tour is meant to provide exposure and knowledge about how the United States implements one of its investigative techniques called consensual recording. Consensual recording may be used in counter terrorism cases, drugs, public corruption and others. Consensual recording means that it is the technique where a suspect may be recorded but with only the law enforcer knowing that the recording is going on.

Second Day of Study Tour in Washington DC - July 9, 2019

The second day of our study tour brought us to the William B. Bryant Annex US Courthouse where we attended a Status Conference of two cases in the court of DC District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell who also serves as Chief of the District Court (similar to what is known as an Executive Judge in the Philippines).

After the status conference held in the courtroom, we had a round table discussion with Judge Howell in her Chambers where we discussed specific points in the two cases and how evidence, particularly recorded conversation, is used in certain cases.

It was interesting to note that the two cases discussed involved two matters that are subjects of two bills I filed in Congress— Freedom of Information and Body-worn Cameras.

The first case was about protesters who entered an embassy in Washington DC and were charged with trespassing. Part of the evidence presented were more than 800 video files taken by body-worn cameras by the police. Our discussion focused on how the evidence is processed and used by the court.

The other case involved the Freedom of Information law of the US, where a certain group invoked US FOI law to compel a US Federal Agency to reveal the basis of policies it adapted.

The discussion with judge Howell proved to be a very fruitful one, with our group gaining a lot of information and knowledge.

The other proceeding we attended was a sentencing of a person convicted of sexual assault under the court of Judge James E. Boasberg.

The defendant (in the Philippines they’re referred to as “the accused”) was convicted by a jury in a trial but the sentencing (the imposition of punishment) is done on a separate proceeding where the judge determines the penalty.

It was like a scene from a movie where the defendant (who is now actually a convict) was dressed in orange overalls with security deployed in the courtroom. We listened to the statements of both the prosecutors and defense lawyers before the judge asked the defendant for his statement.

The defendant gave a statement, saying he had realized the error of his ways and while he acknowledged that he deserved the penalty, he sought a lighter penalty.

The judge pointed out the seriousness of his crimes which he perpetrated after having been previously imprisoned for another crime. He then gave a penalty of a total of 23 years in prison to the 28 year old convict.

At our round table discussion with the judge afterwards, I told him that I observed that he seemed to have a heavy heart when he delivered his sentence.

He said that it wasn’t easy giving such punishment especially that he knew the historical background of the man who had a very difficult childhood and got involved in crime at the age of 12. But justice had to be served.

Just like with Judge Howell, we also discussed about evidence handling and appreciation in his court.

After lunch, our final meeting for the day was with prosecutors of the Public Integrity Section do the US Department of Justice which had a similar duty and function as our Ombudsman.

They investigate and prosecute corruption crimes committed by public officials and employees. They explained to us circumstances of some cases they handled and how they used evidence, particularly recorded conversations, to prosecute their suspects.

It was indeed an exciting and fruitful day, with members of our group eagerly engaging the resource persons during the roundtable discussions. There were a lot of lessons that we learned and very important tips that we picked up.

Although the difference between the US system and the Philippine system is significant, there are many things that are applicable to both and the things that our group learned are definitely valuable and can be used back in the Philippines.