In ABC's newest hit crime drama Secrets and Lies, the pilot episode opened up with the discovery of a dead body of a 5 year old child. The witness who discovered the body obviously went down to the police station to give a voluntary statement in the hopes of aiding the investigation of a horrific crime, in any way he can. Because of the gravity of the crime, he is called in multiple times to answer additional questions. Upon the multiple interrogations he goes through, it is soon revealed that he has become a ‘person of interest' in the murder and is soon beleaguered by constant requests to answer more questions by the detective, and his life unravels once the media gets wind that he is a suspect. While cliché, scenarios like this play out daily.
Asking someone to ‘voluntarily” go down to the police station to answer questions about a crime or an event that one has witnessed is the oldest trick in the book. Most people think nothing of it because they want to be ‘cooperative' members of society, but he this tactic is often used to manipulate people into giving the police additional information. Sometimes there is a genuine need for information in a case, and sometimes it is simply a ploy to coerce a confession. Depending on whether you are a person of interest” in a crime or simply an eyewitness to an event or a crime, it is important to know your rights in either situation, or when you can request for the police to stop bothering you.
If you are a mere eyewitness to a car accident for example, it is generally advised to be cooperative and help the police do their job in putting together a thorough investigation Eyewitnesses are not in custody nor are their interrogations custodial. This means that if you are an eyewitness, you may terminate an interrogation at any time and request to leave. You may also refuse to give an eyewitness account to being with. In other instances, those who are merely eyewitnesses to an accident or a crime may sometimes find themselves being pestered by the police to answer more questions, even after they have gone down to the station once or twice already. You may also respectfully decline future interviews. If the police want to mandate your statement or force you to testify, they will have to summon or subpoena you.
However, the line between a witness and a ‘person of interest' may be blurred at times. Witnesses may easily become persons of interests or suspects in a case, and police are not required to inform you when you have become a person of interest. If you suspect that the police are looking at you as more than an eyewitness, you should contact a lawyer.
Persons of Interest
If you know you are a ‘person of interest,' you should never voluntarily go down to the police station, because anything you say may be used against you, or to charge you. Instead, respectfully decline, and inform them that you would like to speak to your lawyer first, or have your lawyer present. While you may think that because you are innocent and that you should go down to the station to ‘clear your name,' or that refusing to do so solidifies your guilt, keep in mind that the reason police ask persons of interests or people they suspect to voluntarily go to the station is because they do not have enough information to arrest them/take them into custody, or to charge them. Rather, they are trying to get more information in order to do so. If they had the information they needed, they would have charged you already. In order for the police to charge someone with a crime, they must have probable cause, which is defined as the reasonable belief based on the facts articulated, that you have committed the crime. Do not give them this probable cause.
If you do decide to down to the station, a good litmus test to determine whether the interrogation is custodial is to ask whether you are free to leave. If you are not free to leave, then the interview has become custodial, and police are required to read you your Miranda rights. Failure to do so may constitute a violation of your 5th Amendment freedom from self-incrimination. If you are at the station voluntarily, you may leave at any time and terminate their interview at any time. Like eyewitnesses, you may also refuse subsequent interviews or inform police that they will need to arrest you or charge you in order to continue with the interrogation(s).
The Seattle Police Manual
Seattle PD has recently updated their guidelines in their manual to guide officers in their interactions with citizens. 6.220-POL has specifically defined a noncustodial interview as: “A voluntary and consensual investigatory interview that an officer conducts with a subject during which the subject is free to leave and/or decline any of the officer's requests at any point. It is not a seizure.”
Seattle Criminal Defense Attorney
As a former prosecutor, lawyer Steve Karimi is familiar with all the tactics that police use to manipulate people to give information. Whether it be a felony, misdemeanor, juvenile case, DUI, or property crime issue, criminal defense attorney Steve Karimi has achieved an outstanding record of results in drunk driving, drug crime, domestic violence and a wide range of other misdemeanor, felony and juvenile cases. He not only zealously represents people in court, but will advocate for those who are brought in for interrogations and ensure that police do not overstep their boundaries. If you have been charged with a crime or are being interrogated for suspect of a crime, contact a Seattle criminal defense attorney online or call 206-621-8777 to schedule a free initial consultation. Our 24-hour-a-day phone service is al available at 206-660-6200.