Being asked to participate in a police interview can be stressful and confronting. Many ‘suspects’ are unsure about what to do when called in to the station – they may want to participate but worried that they will say something wrong, while at the same time being concerned that they will look guilty if they refuse to take part.
This uncertainty can make things easier for police, many of whom will prey on a person’s lack of legal knowledge and general vulnerability.
It is a well-known fact that many innocent people incriminate themselves by participating in police interviews. In fact, false confessions have been uncovered across the globe – from Germany to Japan, Iceland to Australia, and of course the United States.
The use of torture techniques to gain information is now generally frowned upon – although it is still used by countries like the US in offshore detention centres to extract so-called ‘confessions’ under extreme duress.
The process of police ‘verballing’ or fabricating confessions has largely been eradicated in Australia thanks to the general requirement that, unless it is impractical to do so, interviews must be electronically recorded.
But police are still known to use a range of other methods to get information from people they suspect of crimes.
Persuading you to participate in the first place:
Despite what police might tell you, it is almost always against your best interests to participate in a police interview.
There are exceptions to this rule, but unless a criminal lawyer specifically advises you to participate in an interview, it is usually best to politely decline ‘on legal advice’.
Participating in an interview but answering certain questions with the words ‘no comment’ is not a good idea either, as police may later rely upon your selective answering to suggest that you have a “consciousness of guilt”. They can also rely upon your demeanour and mannerisms if you listen to what they say but choose to say nothing at all.
So again, it is usually best to tell police that you decline to be interview on the advice of your lawyer.
It is important to note that, despite erosions to the ‘right to silence’, your refusal to participate in an interview cannot be used against you at a later date unless you had a lawyer physically present at the police station.
Convincing you to going into the interview room:
Even if you say you don’t want to participate in an interview, police may try to convince you to enter the interview room in order to ‘record your refusal’.
If they ask you to do this, you should tell them that your lawyer has advised you not to enter the interview room or be recorded in any way, and you wish to follow their advice.
This is because some unscrupulous officers will wait until the recording equipment is turned on, read out the allegations against you and say something like ‘do you have anything to say about this?’. Nervous and caught off guard, there is always a chance you will say something that harms your case.
Using threats or inducements:
Police are not supposed to use threats or inducements to make a person talk – but it can still happen ‘informally’, over the phone or at the police station.
Police will sometimes say they will ‘go easy’ if you cooperate, and may even make veiled or direct threats that things won’t turn out well if you refuse to be interviewed.
Police may even offer bail – in other words, say that they will release you from the police station if you attend and participate in an interview.
However, it is important to be aware that the officer who calls you into the station and undertakes the interview is not normally the one that decides whether you will be released.
Police will often lure suspects into interviews with the promise of bail – but, after the interview has concluded, break their word and refuse bail by saying things like ‘it’s not my call’ or ‘the case has become too serious’.
Pretending to be on your side:
No matter how friendly an officer might seem, remember that they are never on your side.
Indeed, the purpose of interviewing a suspect is to extract information, perhaps even a full confession, and your interests are secondary at best.
The interview room itself:
Fear and intimidation are good ways for police to make suspects talk.
Being isolated in a small room with two police officers can create an atmosphere of fear and isolation. In that environment, people can say things they don’t mean, forget things, get things mixed up and even give police what they want to hear – true or not.
Many innocent people have been known to make false ‘admissions’ in order to get out of the immediate situation and go home, believing that things will sort themselves out later.
But unfortunately, the damage may already be done – and there are many Australian and overseas cases where people have been convicted and sentenced to long terms in prison, and even death, on the strength of a false confession and little else.
Interviewing people while intoxicated:
Police are supposed to wait until a person is sober before interviewing them; however, they certainly don’t always follow this rule.
Section 85 of the Evidence Act requires courts to exclude confessions made by a defendant to an investigating official unless it is unlikely that their truth was affected. This means that a confession may be kept out of court if a person is extremely intoxicated.
However, courts will often allow the confessions of people who are intoxicated into evidence and then direct the jury to take into account the state of intoxication when weighing up the credibility of that information.
This means that a confession while drunk or affected by drugs may be used against you in certain situations – so it is definitely a good idea to refuse to be interviewed while intoxicated.
No conversation is ever “off the record”:
Despite what police might say, don’t ever assume that anything is ‘off the record.’
While police will usually need to caution you before an interview, they can apply for a warrant in order to secretly record you.
They can, and often do, include conversations that they claim to have had with you in their own statements. So don’t tell them anything that you wouldn’t want to be come out later on.
So there you have it: common tricks police use to get confessions.
If you have been asked to participate in a police interview, it is important to seek legal advice from a specialist criminal law firm in order to ensure that your interests are protected.