Depending on the type of allegation police are investigating, they will usually conduct enquiries with a number of different sources. Sometimes they will rely heavily on witnesses such as police officers, complainants, eye-witnesses and experts; whilst other times they will need to analyse physical materials such as CCTV footage and forensic reports.
When it comes to speaking to the person who is alleged to have committed an offence, this is often the very last thing police officers do in finalising their investigation. When police officers are at the stage where they want to speak to an accused person, they will usually have a fair idea of:
- What the allegation is;
- The evidence they have (and don’t have) to prove the allegation; and
- What the accused is most likely going to say (if anything at all).
If you or someone you know is in this position where police want to speak to them about an investigation concerning them, it is critical to get advice from a specialist criminal lawyer before anything is said to the police. Speaking to a lawyer beforehand can often be the difference between having charges dropped or improving the options which may be available if the person is ultimately charged with a criminal offence.
Whilst it may seem counterintuitive to speak to a criminal lawyer before speaking to police, especially in circumstances where someone has done nothing wrong and feels they have nothing to hide, it is important to understand the irreversible ramifications which may follow as a result. Consider the below example:
Mr Westcoast is out celebrating his team winning the 2020 premiership when a fight breaks out between his group of friends and a group of supporters for the opposition. Mr Westcoast sees punches being exchanged and intervenes to break up the fight.
One of the males involved in the altercation, Mr Collingwood, makes a police report seven days later. He decides to make a complaint after noticing that his teeth were broken as a result of a punch he received to the mouth during the altercation. But for the injury, he had no intention of reporting the matter to police.
Mr Collingwood didn’t know the people who were involved in the fight, though he was able to describe the person who assaulted him as a large male wearing a West Coast Eagles guernsey and a black hat. His friends were unable to assist in identifying the assailant, as they were heavily intoxicated on the evening and cannot recall the altercation. The hotel where the incident took place did not have CCTV footage capturing the incident, though police were provided with a record of the people who had their ID checked that evening. After conducting enquiries with people who attended the hotel that evening, the police eventually contacted Mr Westcoast.
- Mr Westcoast chose not to speak to a lawyer before speaking to police.
- He tells police that he was at the hotel that evening wearing a black hat and a West Coast Eagles Guernsey.
- He admitted to police that he was involved in an altercation, where he punched a male matching Mr Collingwood’s description.
- He explained to police that he struck Mr Collingwood once to the face only after Mr Collingwood launched at him first and said he had a weapon. Mr Westcoast said he only punched him because he was scared and was acting in self-defence.
- Mr Westcoast spoke to a specialist criminal lawyer from Butlers Lawyers before speaking to police.
- He received legal advice on his options about what he did and did not need to disclose to police.
- After following the advice he was given, he elected not to comment on the incident.
In option 1, the police now have an ‘oath on oath’ case. This is when a case effectively boils down to two different versions of events of the same incident. Although Mr Westcoast explained that he was innocent, the most common outcome in this situation would be that he is charged with an offence which would need to be determined at a trial before a Magistrate, Judge or Jury.
In option 2, the police have no concrete evidence to suggest Mr Westcoast was the person who was involved in the altercation, given the ambiguous description given by Mr Collingwood, the lack of DNA evidence or CCTV footage and the unreliability of Mr Collingwood’s friends. Scenario 2 would most often lead to the investigation being closed and Mr Westcoast not being charged.
To speak to a specialist criminal lawyer, call us on (08) 9386 5200.