The lecture by Professor James Duane about why you should not talk to the police (in the US at least) is doing the rounds at the moment. The Google video site doesn’t work for me, so I downloaded it from youtube with the following references:
part 1 [rVq6N0xAEEM]
part 2 [-Z0bpj3EEHI]
part 3 [44-GSZofXIE]
part 4 [zSvxiaO-TG8]
part 5 [gzYHnWrqfWg]
part 6 [BErNzdOnWGY]
The first thing that struck me about this is that it’s the first time I’ve ever seen someone clearly state the problem with the excessive number and complexity of the laws. It’s impossible to know whether you are breaking the law. This is obviously wrong and it should be a legislative priority to reduce the number of laws and the complexity of the laws. If for every law they sought evidence regarding whether it helped people or helped preserve the state then that would be a good start.
The excessive number of laws is not just a problem due to the risk of accidentally breaking a law, but also due to the fact that a malicious cop could arrest anyone that they wished – it would merely be a matter of following them for long enough. In the second half of the lecture Officer George Bruch from the Virginia Beach Police Department gives his side of the story. At one point he cites an example of the road laws where he can follow a car and find a legitimate reason for booking the driver if he wishes.
Virginian law allows the police to destroy primary evidence. If they tape an interview then they can transcribe it to a written record and then destroy the original tape. If the transcription removes some of the content that has meaning then the defendant is probably going to suffer for it. It’s often stated that on the net you have to make extra effort to make your meaning clear as jokes can’t be recognised by the tone of voice. It seems that the same effort would need to be made in a police interview (but without the possibility of going back and saying “sorry I was misunderstood” that you have in email).
It’s also legal for police to lie to suspects. While I can imagine some situations where this could be reasonable, it seems that at a minimum there should be some protection for child suspects against being lied to by police (there have been some travesties of justice stemming from children trusting police in an interview room).
It seems that if someone doesn’t get a good lawyer and refuse to talk to the police then they will be likely to be convicted regardless of whether they are guilty or innocent. Officer Bruch says that he tries to avoid interviewing innocent people. So I guess whether someone ends up in jail or not will depend to some extent on the opinion of a cop who may or may not interview them.
While I guess a high rate of success at securing convictions is in most cases a good thing, the fact that convicting an innocent person is the absolute best way of letting a criminal escape justice seems to be forgotten.
Another issue is the fact that a witness may have reason to believe that they could be a suspect. The advice that a suspect should never talk to a police officer seems to logically imply that intelligent people will be hesitant about providing witness statements in situations where they may be a suspect.
I wonder how the legal system in Australia compares to the US in regard to these issues. I know that we have far too many laws and too many complex laws which can not be understood and obeyed by a reasonable person.