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Joanna Hoyt
12-17-2010, 03:58 AM
The police are investigating a suspicious death. One officer is interviewing the main witnesses and obvious suspects, her housemates, singly. Another is in the living room with the housemates who are not being interviewed. He has recommended that they not discuss the circumstances of the death with one another. Some of them are disregarding this recommendation. Obviously he can write down (or audio-record?) whatever they say. Can he also forbid them to leave the room, or to leave it in small groups? What if some of them try texting one another? Can he confiscate their cell phones? Can he charge them with some kind of obstruction of justice if they persist in texting, or refuse to hand over their phones? Also if one person starts telling her housemates (out loud) pointers on how to come across as truthful in a police interview, and she is asked to stop and doesn't, can she be isolated, or charged with anything?

Any thoughts greatly appreciated.

Drachen Jager
12-17-2010, 04:16 AM
I can't answer all the questions but they'd certainly arrest anyone who was acting like your last instance. They might or might not charge her with anything but they would certainly arrest anyone attempting to interfere with the investigation. Depending on the jurisdiction and surrounding circumstances they'd either hold her for 48 hours and release her or charge her with something. It's certainly a crime but it might be difficult to prosecute and if they didn't feel any damage was done they'd probably just let it go.

jclarkdawe
12-17-2010, 04:28 AM
My guess is if they can't control the environment at the scene, they'd move the witnesses down to the police station and solve that problem real quick. But usually they can just separate people.

Remember that for all intents and purposes, police have an unlimited amount of manpower, subject to how fast they can arrive on the scene. If you need more officers to control witnesses, you call your dispatcher and request additional manpower. In New York, you'd have the town's police force involved, but also the state troopers.

Put a few people in the back of cruisers, stand a few more around with an officer, and you solve the problem real quick. Realize that police officers are like everybody else and try to find the simplest solution to a problem. And they do have the legal right to detain and hold witnesses to a possible crime.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

JulieHowe
12-17-2010, 08:44 AM
The police are investigating a suspicious death. One officer is interviewing the main witnesses and obvious suspects, her housemates, singly. Another is in the living room with the housemates who are not being interviewed. He has recommended that they not discuss the circumstances of the death with one another. Some of them are disregarding this recommendation. Obviously he can write down (or audio-record?) whatever they say. Can he also forbid them to leave the room, or to leave it in small groups? What if some of them try texting one another? Can he confiscate their cell phones? Can he charge them with some kind of obstruction of justice if they persist in texting, or refuse to hand over their phones? Also if one person starts telling her housemates (out loud) pointers on how to come across as truthful in a police interview, and she is asked to stop and doesn't, can she be isolated, or charged with anything?

Any thoughts greatly appreciated.

It's not likely to get to this point. Witnesses (as someone else pointed out in their comments) will quickly be hustled off to separate places, perhaps to separate rooms, but probably down to the police station in separate patrol cars, but most likely, not in handcuffs because they aren't yet under arrest.

Another note. Most civilians are just this side of wetting themselves when they're dealing with uniformed police officers who have guns and two-way radios clipped to their belts. This kind of aggressive behavior you describe would be very strange for innocent people.

The actions you describe for the police officers are also unlikely. If my hamster dies under suspicious circumstances, and the cops have moved everyone in my house into the living room, we're not under arrest, and they're not confiscating anyone's cell phones yet. The location you chose is extremely important - someone's home, even if they're in a friend's home, provides all sorts of legal protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

However, the police do have the right to temporarily detain everyone in the house - you're not under arrest yet, but you aren't free to leave, either. Criminal cases have been tossed on appeal based on the concept of what is a reasonable amount of time to detain someone at a crime scene without formally arresting them.

Criminal convictions have been tossed out on appeal because of tactical errors made by police officers acting like egotistical stormtroopers inside a civilian's home. Which is precisely why the crime scene is going to be quickly secured, and witnesses are going to be hustled off to the police station to be interviewed separately.

Joanna Hoyt
12-18-2010, 03:06 AM
Thanks! I had assumed that in the absence of clear evidence of murder people wouldn't be moved to the police station; good to learn that i was wrong before I get too far along...

This also brings up a question about jurisdiction. The death occurs in a small town in very, very rural NY, so city/village police aren't an option; would the county sheriff be called in? the state police? both? if both, who takes charge of the scene?

And yes, I hear you about the suspects' actions being odd. Some are trying hard to behave well and come across as reassuringly innocent. One is trying to distract attention from what he believes to be someone else's guilt. One is, well, a little unstable.

YoursEvermore
12-18-2010, 11:04 AM
This also brings up a question about jurisdiction. The death occurs in a small town in very, very rural NY, so city/village police aren't an option; would the county sheriff be called in? the state police? both? if both, who takes charge of the scene?


I'm not sure about NY, but I can answer it from an Illinois POV. Hopefully that will help somewhat. :)

If this happened in my county, in the rural country area, the sheriff's office would be the ones with the jursidiction. If the crime in question was even remotely thought to be a homicide, the Major Crimes Task Force would be assembled (which is a group of detectives from every agency in the county). The task force would investigate it, utilizing all of their various resources, and all press releases/press conferences would go through the sheriff (or his chief deputy). It would still be a sheriff's office case, even if they got help from other agencies.

For us in IL, the state police only get involved if a) we ask for help or b) it involves a deputy from our agency and we need to detach from the situation.

RJK
12-18-2010, 07:48 PM
A small town in New York, as in many other small jurisdictions would rely on a Major Crimes Task Force. The Town police supervisor, would order the town police officers to separate the witnesses, possibly take them to the police station, depending on a lot of variables (how many cops on the scene, how big is HQ, how many witnesses, how big is the crime scene (can they be separated there), How soon the task force members will get to the scene, etc.).
The town officers would be instructed NOT to question the witnesses, but to take note of ANYTHING they say. If the witnesses are observed using their phones, the officers should tell them to put the phones away. If they witness refuses, the officer should take the phone until the investigator is ready to question him; then the witness would be given an opportunity to call his attorney, no one else. If the witness refuses to cooperate, The police are normally stumped at that point. They can't force the person to talk.