Parrallel Construcion an Inside View

I saw a post on what I call “Parallel Construction” by Samuel Partida, Jr. a few days ago and took some time to think about it.

Parrallel Construction is where law enforcement identifies a criminal action by some means, but creates an alternative explanation of how they got there for the courts. Not saying the alternative story isn’t true, but it hides the “real” way they identified the criminal activity. The standard example is a drug arrest following a traffic stop. The police write up the reason for the stop as being a traffic offense. They leave out that an informant told them there were 5 kilos of cocaine in the car.

I am in the unique position of having been a police officer for 15 years and now doing defense work. I worked narcotics, street crimes, and eventually on a FBI CyberCrime Task Force.

The “parallel construction” situation exists a lot in law enforcement. It is most prominent in areas where you are working with informants or high tech information, and there is the desire to conceal a law enforcement capability.

I will elaborate on examples of each situation.

  • You have an informant on the inside that is able to point you to criminal activity. If you reveal anything to anyone that there is an informant involved, you place this person at risk of harm. Further, you jeopardize their ability to help with any future investigations.

  • Law enforcement has a high tech ability that criminals do not know about, and there is a desire to keep it secret. An example of this would be early in the days of night vision goggles. I was involved drug enforcement operations where officers observed drug activities from a concealed position utilizing night vision. Uniformed officers would then respond and engage in citizen contacts with individuals we knew to be holding drugs. It would not be unusual for dealers to run and simply throw down the drugs as they ran. One officer would collect the drugs, while others apprehended the fleeing dealer. The reports would not mention the use of night vision in identifying the member of the group who was holding drugs.

  • A law enforcement officer having access to a classified tool / information that provides information on a crime that would not be available to the general public. As a condition for receiving this information or using the tool, the local agency and / or officer is required to enter into an agreement with a federal agency or private company that forbids the disclosure of the tool. Example would be information originating from NSA intercepts or a Stingray.

In some cases, the law enforcement officer when giving testimony is placed in the uncomfortable position of having agreed and/or being under orders not to disclose the above information. The “penalty” if there is a disclosure in some cases is their entire agency being cut off from having access to the tool or information.

Before anyone condemns the officers from not just volunteering this information, I want you to consider another situation that comes up in court all the time. Virtually every time I raised my hand to testify at a trial, I was under directions from a judge or attorney not to mention or talk about “X” issue when testifying. It always struck me at how this conflicted with the oath they had me take to tell the “whole” truth. It was a regular event that I had to carefully craft answers in such a way as to conceal information I had been directed to keep away from the jury.

There were times where both of these sets of issues would overlap in the same case.

But back to the “parallel construction” issue. In most cases an officer doesn’t have to lie to conceal the other information. This is because the attorneys involved simply do not know the right question to ask. This is part of where I help the defense out today.

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