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Sarita
12-05-2005, 11:53 PM
I'm working on writing a scene that includes a police officer asking a possible murder suspect a few casual questions regarding the person that was murdered. This scene happens before the suspect even knows the person was murdered. The officer is trying to bait her into saying something incriminating. I just want to start with him asking "Did you see Bill yesterday?" or When was the last time you saw Bill?

Any suggestions as to how this should be worded to sound official?

Does anyone have any interesting resources regarding police language?

Perks
12-06-2005, 12:00 AM
Hey Sara! I just had some police procedural-type questions for my WIP and I called the local police station. In a matter of a few moments, I was connected with a homicide detective more than happy to answer my questions. It turned out to be a very fun and enlightening conversation, plus he offered to be a resource throughout the process. Always handy to know a cop when you're writing death and dismemberment.

Richard
12-06-2005, 12:22 AM
"So, hypothetically, if you had to bury, say, an ex-wife's corpse somewhere where the police would never, ever find it...? Oh, and the story's set in my house. Just for realism, you understand."

Perks
12-06-2005, 12:26 AM
Actually, Richard, you're not that far off. I was pleased to note that the detective took down my particulars. I'm not sure I'd have felt all that safe in this county if he hadn't.

Assuming Sara hasn't actually killed anybody, she should be okay going straight to the source for info.

Nicholas S.H.J.M Woodhouse
12-06-2005, 03:31 AM
I was pleased to note that the detective took down my particulars. .

:ROFL:



the local police are always very helpful on this kind of thing

I would call first and tell them you'd like to talk to someone who is particularly knowledgable about whatever is going on in your scene, find out when they are available and work around their schedule rather than go in and just see anyone. It also makes the person you'l speak to feel special about it and even if you have to reschedule a few times, they'll be extra helpful because of it

unless they are one of those maverick, don't-give-a-damn so and sos

ideagirl
12-07-2005, 05:15 AM
The officer is trying to bait her into saying something incriminating. I just want to start with him asking "Did you see Bill yesterday?" or When was the last time you saw Bill? Any suggestions as to how this should be worded to sound official?

Calling the police station sounds like a good idea. One thing to keep in mind is that to know how this might be said, you would need to know the circumstances: for instance, where are they? I doubt they could be at the police station, unless the suspect happened to have come there for some other reason or had been arrested for some other charge, because normally when someone's arrested the police tell them what for--so at that point he would already know that Bill was dead. And how did the police officer strike up the conversation--did he use a ruse (lie about what they're investigating), or what? And how smart is the suspect--does he know that he doesn't have to answer a cop's question if he doesn't want to, that he can just walk away unless he's under arrest (which he's not yet, it sounds like), etc.?

You don't have to be certain of the circumstances before you call the police station, but just keep in mind that the circumstances make a difference, so you'll want to ask the cop about that too ("would you ever approach a suspect in this way, in that place, at this time of day," etc.), and see if the way they would handle the questioning would change in different circumstances.

Sarita
12-07-2005, 05:56 AM
Excellent suggestions, everyone. Thanks :)

If anyone has any others... feel free to throw them out there.

Lady K'Lyssia
12-08-2005, 06:29 PM
Actually he wouldn't want it to sound too official if he is trying to draw him into making a mea res statement that could be used as evidence.

Things to keep in mind - Miranda is two prong and both conditions must be met before an officer is required to give the warning - 1) he must be asking questions related to a specific crime and 2) (this is the big one in most cases) the person being questioned must believe he is custody and cannot leave the area.

Asking someone general questions about another person doesn't need to come acros as official - you two examples are good. He can approach the suspect - Identify himself - and ask if he had see Bill yesterday - if the answer is yes - follow with - around what time and where at.

At this point the suspect may ask what's going on - the officer can always say they had a call from a friend/family mamber that Bill didn't come home last night so their just checking around.

Now, if your suspect has any knowledge of the law - he can realize that most agencies wiat a full 24 hours before looking for a missing person.

Hope this helps
BTW: I worked as a Deputy Sheriff in Colorado for ten years - assigned to the jail, but had a lot of friends working patrol

Frank Zafiro
12-19-2005, 11:44 PM
Actually he wouldn't want it to sound too official if he is trying to draw him into making a mea res statement that could be used as evidence.

If it were me, I'd want to sound business-like but casual. In other words, someone would expect a detective to sound official and might be suspicious if s/he did not, but there should be a casual-ness to it that makes it seem that this is a question that the detective is asking everyone and it is no big deal.



Things to keep in mind - Miranda is two prong and both conditions must be met before an officer is required to give the warning - 1) he must be asking questions related to a specific crime and 2) (this is the big one in most cases) the person being questioned must believe he is custody and cannot leave the area.

Miranda is a sticky wicket and case law is always affecting it's implementation. The two prongs are (a) custody and (b) guilt-seeking questions. Your number 1 above means essentially the same as (b). As far as custody goes, though, this one has been upside down and sideways in the court...is it in the mind of the officer that custody has occurred? Or in the mind of the subject? Or does it require the officer having told him/her that custody exists? It has been all of these at one time or another, based on different rulings, but as it stands now, the ruling is that custody exists when the conditions surrounding the questioning meet the functional equivalent of custody. The standard is whether a reasonable person in that situation would believe custody exists (much as you described above).

Courts have ruled that it is not simply enough for the officer to say, "You're not under arrest," but handcuff the subject and put them in the back of a police car and then not give Miranda warnings. However, I have on uncounted occasions asked people to come down to the station for an interview, told them they were not in custody and would be allowed to leave at the conclusion of the interview and then conducted that interview (and let them go as promised). This stands up, despite the fact that we spoke in a secure interview room in the detectives division and that the division itself is through two different secure points.

Anyway, long description to say that Lady K'Lyssia has it pretty well nailed.



Asking someone general questions about another person doesn't need to come acros as official - you two examples are good. He can approach the suspect - Identify himself - and ask if he had see Bill yesterday - if the answer is yes - follow with - around what time and where at.

Miranda is not triggered when a detective is asking general questions during an information seeking phase of his/her investigation, so you're right. If he is asking a lot of people these general questions, just trying to gather facts, Miranda is not necessary. But it sounds like the detective has focused on the subject here and the subject just doesn't know it...so the detective needs to be careful that no form of custody exists. That way, he can ask innocuous questions that may lead to guilt-seeking ones and not stumble over Miranda.

Incidentally, this conversation could happen on the phone with no Miranda issues. But then you lose 70 percent (or as much as 90, depending on which experts you believe) of the possible return information in body language from the subject.


At this point the suspect may ask what's going on - the officer can always say they had a call from a friend/family mamber that Bill didn't come home last night so their just checking around.

The police can lie to bad guys. Yes, that's right, they can lie..it is referred to by the euphemism "proper trickery." As the title suggests, the lie can not be of a nature that would cause an innocent person to confess to something they did not do. Again, the standard is a "reasonable man" standard.

In reality, though, juries don't like it. It may be "proper," and it may work, but it bothers most jurors.


Now, if your suspect has any knowledge of the law - he can realize that most agencies wiat a full 24 hours before looking for a missing person.

That depends on the nature of the missing person. If there is any evidence of foul play, or if the person is disabled, the response would be considerably sooner.


Hope this helps
BTW: I worked as a Deputy Sheriff in Colorado for ten years - assigned to the jail, but had a lot of friends working patrol

That brings up another important point...while we are all bound by Federal law, state laws and rulings can be more restrictive of law enforcement. In other words, while the state can't take away a right guaranteed by Federal law, it can grant the citizens of the state a broader right. We see that most often with 4th Amendment issues. A straight reading of federal rulings might make a particular action acceptable, while the state constitution says it's not. Law enforcement in that state are held to the stricter of the two standards.

The other point that comes up is that criminal law can vary from state to state. Generally, what is a felony here is a felony there and vice versa...but it always pays to take a look at your own state's criminal code, if you're striving for accuracy.

Last of all, Saritams8, I'd be happy to look at the passage directly and make suggestions.

My email is frankzafiro@msn.com

Rabe
12-27-2005, 12:53 PM
Courts have ruled that it is not simply enough for the officer to say, "You're not under arrest," but handcuff the subject and put them in the back of a police car and then not give Miranda warnings. However, I have on uncounted occasions asked people to come down to the station for an interview, told them they were not in custody and would be allowed to leave at the conclusion of the interview and then conducted that interview (and let them go as promised). This stands up, despite the fact that we spoke in a secure interview room in the detectives division and that the division itself is through two different secure points.
[/QUOTE]


to further elaborate on the point, another good test is the "am I free to leave" standard.

If the answer is 'yes' then there is no custody. If the answer is 'no' then there is custody.

Though, one thing we run into quite often in the detention environment are the people who believe their case will be thrown out because the 'booking officer' didn't Mirandize them, and therefore their rights were violated.

But that's an aside.

As has been said, the standard mostly upheld by the SC has been the 'reasonable person' standard - would a reasonable person, in the same circumstances, feel free to leave? If the answer is yes, then there is no custody. No, then there is custody. It doesn't always have to include jewelry or locked doors.

Rabe...

James Buchanan
04-03-2006, 05:32 AM
Posting on an old thread I know... but many "proactive" police departments allow ride alongs by the public. You call the public relations office and tell them you're doing research as an author and they can sched. it. Some don't really care so long as you live in the area you want to do a ride along with. I did LA CRASH (when there still was such a thing) but Pasadena, CA and San Diego, CA both allow citizens to do ride alongs in thier city. In fact in Pasadena you can become a civilian memeber of the police force and get assigned patrol duties.