A necessary component of a police investigation into an alleged offence, and the decision of whether to charge a suspect, often involves the police conducting a video record of interview with the suspect.
It’s important to understand what your rights are before attending a police station for an interview. This article aims to provide an overview of your rights, as well as some guidelines to follow with respect to participating in a video recorded interview with the police as a suspect to an offence.
What’s the purpose of a video recorded police interview?
Often the police have gathered a significant amount of evidence in their investigation before they conduct an interview with a suspect. The aim of a police interview is not to give the interviewee an opportunity to provide an explanation and version of events. If that were the case, why would the interview be recorded?
Rather, a video record of the interview is an effort by the police to attain more admissible evidence against the suspect, thereby strengthening the prosecution case against that person.
People who are requested to attend at a police station for a video record of interview often believe participating in the interview and providing answers to police questions will sort things out. They believe that going in there and telling the truth will make it all go away. Unfortunately, this not the case.
The police often anticipate that the suspect will deny the charges before an interview is conducted. Police will have a plan of attack in their questioning designed to back the interviewee into a corner and commit to a particular position. Due to matters such as the passing of time or the fact that the interviewee may have been intoxicated at the time of the alleged offence, their recollection of the events they are being questioned about may be mistaken or distorted in some way. It is only when they see the evidence down the track that their recollection about what had occurred becomes clearer.
The interviewee’s version of events may, in these circumstances, change upon viewing all the evidence. In these circumstances the prosecution may later claim in court that because the interviewee’s story has changed, they have therefore not been truthful or credible in their answers to the police. It is important to remember that the police regularly conduct interviews with suspects and are experienced in questioning and cross examination of a suspect.
How do police interviews take place?
Police interviews are often scheduled over the phone. The police may simply call you and request that you attend the police station for an interview to be conducted. If this occurs, it is sensible to attend at the police station at the scheduled time and place, even if you do not intend to answer police questions and participate in an interview.
The reason for this is because (particularly if the alleged offence is serious) the police may otherwise decide to come and arrest you to take you back to the police station and conduct the interview. This may create an awkward and embarrassing situation if you are in your place of employment or are at home at the time the police arrive.
If the allegations are serious it is suggested that you try to schedule the appointment in the early morning. That is because if the police do not grant you bail, you are more likely to be placed before the court on the same day where you can make a formal application to the Magistrate for bail.
It’s also a good idea to avoid going in on a Friday. If you were to go to your police interview on a Friday afternoon and the police refused you bail, there is a strong possibility that you would not be placed before a court until the following Monday, leaving you remanded in custody all weekend.
However, if the police charge you with an offence and refuse you bail they have a legal obligation to place you before a court as soon as reasonably practicable, and the Perth courts often have a presiding Magistrate sitting on Saturdays.
How does a Police interview commence?
An interview starts with the police ensuring that your rights have been properly explained to you. If you have been arrested, the police should ensure that you understand that you have a right to know why you have been arrested and what offence/s you are suspected to have committed; that you have a right to contact a lawyer (and that the police will make the necessary arrangements for that to occur prior to, or during the interview); that you have a right to contact a friend or relative to let them know where you are; that you have a right to an interpreter if needed; that you have a right to medical treatment if necessary; that you have right to privacy from the media.
The police will then provide you with a caution. The caution ensures that you understand that you are not obliged to answer any police questions, but that whatever you do say will be recorded and may be used against you as evidence in a court of law. It is very important to be aware of your right to decline to answer police questions.
Although there are some questions you are required by law to answer, generally you are not required to answer any police questions other than providing your name, date of birth and address. If the police tell you that you are required by law to answer a particular question and you are not sure what to do, you should call a criminal lawyer for legal advice immediately.
If you have a scheduled interview with the police it is important that you seek legal advice from your criminal lawyer before attending for the interview. Attaining legal advice from an experienced criminal lawyer about whether to participate in a video recorded interview and answer police questions is very important.
Talking to the criminal lawyer prior to the interview also enables you to foreshadow to them that you may later need them at court to represent you on a bail application, in the event that the police refuse you bail.
What happens during the Police interview and who is present?
A police interview is usually conducted in special room where two police officers will sit at a table with you. There are generally small microphones on or built in to the table that will pick up everything that is said in the room. There will also be a video camera installed in the room recording the actions of all present.
The police will question you about the offences that you are alleged to have been involved in, and will try to get your version of the story. After hearing your account, they will often make assertions that portray a version of events that conflict with what you have to say. They may show you evidence which is contrary to what you are saying and it is often at this point that the person being interviewed becomes annoyed, defensive and starts to verbalise things they may later regret.
Do I need a criminal lawyer present at the interview?
This depends upon the particular situation you’re facing. If you intend to exercise your right to silence and refuse to answer any police questions, it’s not necessary to have a lawyer present with you.
Should I participate and answer questions in a video recorded interview?
You may think that by refusing to participate in an interview indicates that you have things to hide or a guilty conscience. It’s important to understand that every person has a legal right to silence and a right to refuse to answer police questions. A Magistrate or jury can make no adverse inference or finding from the fact that an accused person chooses to exercise that legal right to silence. To do so would render that legal right as being meaningless.
No person can be forced to be placed into a situation where they might say something adverse to their already delicate and fragile situation. Often, simply making a mistake by providing a wrong name of another person, giving an incorrect time or date, or coming across as nervous, aggressive or untrustworthy during the interview is enough for the prosecution to rely on at trial.
It’s important to be aware that the burden of proving guilt rests at all times with the prosecution. The right against self-incrimination is fundamental to our criminal justice system.
Often, the police will have already conducted an investigation and attained evidence against you prior to the interview being conducted. They most likely have already made a decision on whether or not to lay charge/s, regardless of what you say and how you answer the questions. The only reason they’re conducting an interview is an attempt to attain further admissible evidence.
It is therefore advised that you choose to exercise your legal right to silence and not answer any questions during the course of your video recorded interview. You can do that by alerting the police from the beginning of the interview that you do not propose to answer any questions, and thereafter reply with the words “no comment” to every question asked of you.
What are the consequences of not answering police questions at an interview?
The prosecution cannot lead evidence in a criminal trial that you chose to exercise your right to silence and refused to participate and answer questions in a video recorded interview. When cautioning you at the beginning of the interview the police may say that “you can answer some questions and not others”.
If you do answer some questions and not others and you are selective in the questions that you answer, the video recorded interview will be admissible in evidence. That means that the video recording can be played during the course of a criminal trial, and in these circumstances a Magistrate or jury will more than likely wonder why you were selective in the questions you answered.
For this reason, it’s advisable that if you decide not to answer some police questions, you should choose not to answer any questions at all.
How long does the Police interview go for?
The answer to this really depends on the circumstances of the case. Sometimes an interview can take hours, and sometimes it can be over in 10 minutes. If you choose not to answer any questions and make that clear to the police from the beginning, with a “no comment interview”, the interview process is usually over quickly.
Should I be concerned about the police refusing to give me bail if I refuse to answer questions in an interview?
The police cannot provide any inducements to you to answer their questions. Nor can they provide pressure on you to answer questions, or say that you will not get bail if you refuse to answer questions. The police should confirm with you towards the completion of the video recording whether you have been either induced or pressured in any way to answer their questions.
Should I sign any documents in the interview?
If you chose not to answer questions during the course of the interview, it is advised that you do not sign or mark anything during the interview.
As a criminal lawyer, Andrew Williams is highly experienced in dealing with the police. If you are at all concerned about a scheduled interview with the police, or you have been arrested and are unsure whether you should answer police questions, call us at the Law Offices of Andrew Williams on 08 9275 2575.