Police officers are required to follow a set of strict court-ordered rules when interrogating a suspect who’s in their custody. And, if they don’t follow those set-in-stone rules, any statement made by the suspect would most likely be ruled inadmissible in court. Imagine if that wrongfully-obtained statement had been a full confession to a murder. Definitely not good.
So here’s a handy checklist for your protagonists to follow when they’ve got their bad guy under the hot lights.
1. Physical abuse is forbidden. So put away the rubber hoses.
2. Promises of leniency are also not allowed. Police officers do not have the authority to reduce a jail or prison sentence, nor can they pick the jail or prison where a suspect will serve his time. An officer’s involvement in the case ends with her court testimony.
3. Miranda warnings (reading of rights—you have the right to remain silent … etc.) are given before interrogating a suspect who’s in custody. It’s not like you see on TV. Officers do not begin spouting off the warnings the second they arrest someone. No, no, and NO! Only to people they intend to question. And, questioning is not reserved for serious felonies. People who commit misdemeanors are questioned as well. Keep in mind, though, that department policy may require some officers to present/read/announce the warnings to every person they take into custody, but it is not the norm to do so.
Miranda v. Arizona is the case that started the ball rolling. (click here)
4. Officers are not required to give the Miranda warnings when questioning a witness—someone who is not a suspect. Remember: In custody = Read Miranda warnings. No custody = No Miranda warnings.
5. Officers posing as prisoners in any correctional facility (undercover assignment) not required to give Miranda warnings/advisement of rights to prisoners before asking them questions. Therefore, Barney Fife was absolutely following the law when he questioned a prisoner while posing as a fellow crook. See, I told you that show was an accurate portrayal of police work.
6. Miranda warnings should be given each time there’s a significant delay in questioning. For example, you break to get a good night’s sleep and then resume the next day. Officers should give the Miranda warnings before resuming the questioning.
7. Each new/different officer who questions the suspect should again advise him of Miranda. Now, I don’t mean that if five officers are in the room at the same time, each one should take turns reading the guy his rights. I’m referring to the instances where, say, one officer questioned the suspect for a while and then left. Then another officer (might even be from another agency) comes in to ask questions. The new officer would need to advise the suspect of the Miranda warnings. There’s no such thing as a “blanket Miranda warning” that covers everyone at all times.
8. If a suspect, at any time during the questioning, states that he does not understand his rights the officer should stop and repeat the warnings. They should then continue with the warnings until the suspect states that he fully understands and waives each of them.
9. If the officer gives the warnings and then the suspect says he does not wish to answer, the officer may not continue the questioning.
10. If the suspect requests a lawyer, the officer may not question him until an attorney is present. However, that doesn’t mean a lawyer will drop what he’s doing and run down to the police station. It could be days before an attorney is appointed to represent the little darling. And, the suspect could change his mind at any time and decide to answer questions without an attorney being present. Sitting in jail sometimes “changes the mind,” hoping that cooperation will gain their freedom.
11. Officers should never interrogate suspects who’re obviously intoxicated, suffering from withdrawal, severely injured, suffering from mental illness, or extremely upset (hysterical).
12. Officers cannot legally tell suspects that they’ll allow others to harm them if they don’t confess. You see this all the time on TV and in books – “I’m going to put you in a cell with Big John Bend’emover if you don’t tell me what I want to know.” No.
* Officers should read the Miranda warnings from a pre-printed form or card, not recite them from memory. Reading from a form provides consistency and prevents any omissions and additions, even slight ones, which could be used against the state’s case. If possible, it’s best to have the suspect sign a pre-printed form, an agreement to waive his rights and talk to the officer(s). Someone should witness the signing.
- You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions. Do you understand?
- Anything you do say may be used against you in a court of law. Do you understand?-
- You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future. Do you understand?-
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish. Do you understand?-
- If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney. Do you understand?-
- Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?