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Joanna Hoyt
08-17-2010, 09:15 PM
So here's the situation: A young woman from a newly formed commune in a remote region of upstate NY has been found dead at the bottom of a gorge--dead by reason of a long drop onto rocks. The commune member who found the body and called 911 reports that deceased had had several heated but not physically violent quarrels with her housemates, and was threatening to do something that would break the commune up; after a fairly trivial argument she took off into the woods. When she hadn't returned several hours later her housemates searched the woods for her, separately, and one found her two hours later. Some people claim to have heard shouting. No one admits seeing her alive after she left the house.

Obviously there's not enough evidence to warrant an arrest, or even to establish murder having occurred. Would the police question the deceased's housemates--singly or together?--and tell them not to leave the area without notifying the authorities? Would housemates be required to attend an inquest?

Hallen
08-17-2010, 10:39 PM
Definitely singly. There is enough probable cause there to question them all. The police will look for inconsistencies in the stories and establish a time line for all people to try and build a picture for who was where and try to verify that with independent observations. They can't do that if they question people in a group. People will support each others lies if they know what they are.

RJK
08-18-2010, 09:36 PM
This is also a case where the crime scene will need close examination. The top of the cliff/gorge will be examined for signs of a struggle. The woman's body will be checked for defensive wounds. The housemates will be visually examined for evidence of a struggle, (torn or mussed clothing, scratches, bruises, etc.).

Each person would be interviewed separately and asked to sign a written statement. Unless the police charge a person with a crime, they cannot force the person to remain in the area. They can ask, but they have no authority to force them to stay.

The court (DA) could, serve them with a subpoena to appear at the inquest, hearing or trial, if one were scheduled.

Joanna Hoyt
08-20-2010, 02:52 AM
Thank you both very much. Checking housemates for signs of a struggle is going to be complicated by the fact that they've been searching for the deceased in the woods in a thunderstorm, and therefore several have scratches and bruises for which they have plausible excuses.

Under what circumstances is an inquest held? I have some idea how this works in England, via mystery novels, but not much in this country.

raelwv
08-20-2010, 06:47 AM
There is enough probable cause there to question them all.

Police officers don't need probable cause to question someone - just as nobody has a duty to answer their questions. In fact, lots of times statements given to police include the cops assuring the person being questioned that they are not under arrest and free to leave at any time. Even if the cops actually intend to arrest them later (had that happen in one of my cases once).

The only time probable cause comes into play is if there is an arrest or search issue.

shadowwalker
08-20-2010, 04:47 PM
Under what circumstances is an inquest held? I have some idea how this works in England, via mystery novels, but not much in this country.

An inquest is typically held any time the death is considered not from natural causes - suicide, murder, accidental. I believe an inquest can be held before the investigation is complete, as well - the cause of death would be listed as suspicious and then the inquest would be adjourned pending further investigation. At least that's my understanding of the procedures.

Hallen
08-20-2010, 09:16 PM
Police officers don't need probable cause to question someone - just as nobody has a duty to answer their questions. In fact, lots of times statements given to police include the cops assuring the person being questioned that they are not under arrest and free to leave at any time. Even if the cops actually intend to arrest them later (had that happen in one of my cases once).

The only time probable cause comes into play is if there is an arrest or search issue.
As far as I understand it, you are correct of course. Just because a police officer asks you a question does not mean you have to answer it (if you don't, then you might be detained in certain situations, but you still don't have to answer). You also don't have to provide ID unless it is a specific case.

What I meant was the police would have enough probable cause for them to start investigating. The can cordon off the area, start searching for evidence, etc, without having to worry it will all be thrown out of court. They can ask for statements from everybody. People can refuse of course. But, if they were going to question people, they would definitely do it individually to avoid cross-pollination, so to speak.

Joanna Hoyt
08-21-2010, 09:02 PM
Thanks all again. I can see why the police would question people singly but would appreciate advice about how they get that started. One hosemate has found the body, called 911 and also called for the other searchers (housemates) to come; by the time the police arrive there are two people on the scene, and three more show up before the body can be gotten back up the gorge. They're out in the woods about half an hour from the nearest building. I think, given the remoteness of the location, only a couple of police officers have shown up. Do they tell the housemates not to talk to each other and then have one officer take people aside for questioning one by one? Do they try to keep them from talking to each other and get them back to the nearest building before questioning anyone? If the housemates persist in talking to each other is that in any way a violation of the law?