I recently watched a video of an interview between an adult accused and a police investigator and would like to share my thoughts (disclaimer: the following is not legal advice).
In this case, as may often be the case, the police investigator was conducting the interview before any charges had been laid. The police investigator informed the accused (technically, not yet an “accused”) that there had been no charges laid but listed a few charges that the accused could be facing as a result of his/her actions. The accused seemed shaken by the incident in question and exhausted by the situation. The police investigator made it clear to the accused that: the accused was free to leave at any time; that the accused could choose to go through the white pages to find a lawyer or contact duty counsel if s/he could not afford a lawyer; or the accused could speak with the police investigator. If I was sitting in that chair and I heard that I could answer questions or leave, I think I would have immediately got up and left. However, despite it being clear that the accused was exhausted and wanted to go home, the accused chose not to leave and to answer the questions. Be mindful that when being interviewed by police soon after an incident, we may be in shock and not necessarily thinking clearly. We may feel like the sooner we finish answering the questions, the sooner we will be able to get home but remember that we can go home without answering the questions at all and answering the questions may be detrimental to us.
There are many reasons why an interviewee chooses not to leave when given that option by the police. Police investigators are experienced in questioning people and have many techniques to get people to continue to talk. If the police investigator was friendly or said s/he only had a few questions, an interviewee will likely be willing to stay and answer those questions, allowing the police to gather more information. Also, the way furniture is placed in an interview room may be more conducive to staying rather than leaving. For example, even though the door to the interview room was open, this accused would have had to pass by the police investigator to leave and that may cause anxiety for some people who feel it is disrespectful.
If we’ve never been in trouble with the law before, we may feel an obligation to cooperate with police. This sense of obligation may be used against us in police interviews. We may often feel that if we speak to the police we can answer their questions and prevent a charge from being laid. However, we also have to remember that if the charge is laid against us later, our statement to the police may be used as evidence against us. Keep in mind that if a police officer is asking for a statement from someone who has not yet been charged, the police officer may not yet have the grounds to lay the charge and a statement may give the police officer these grounds.
At law, we have a right to remain silent. Before giving a statement, you should speak to a lawyer so that you can be informed about the consequences that may flow from giving a statement. While the police should stop questioning you after you indicate you wish to speak with a lawyer, they may resume their questioning thereafter. You still have the right to remain silent, although it may be hard to do so.
Although you likely have a legal obligation to identify yourself to police, remember that you have no legal obligation to answer their other questions and you have no obligation to stay in the police interview room. Accordingly, the best course of action in a similar police interview situation may be to do the following:
- Ask the police if you are free to leave. If so, leave. It is not disrespectful to avail yourself of your rights.
- Before making a statement to police, ask to speak to a lawyer or duty counsel.
- Maintain your right to silence even though it may be hard to do.
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