Consultant for writers on crime, police, & court procedures.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


In one of our last posts, we described the difference between 'interview' and 'interrogation.'  That prompted some questions from readers about how the police bring in people for questioning.  "Can a person refuse to go?" one writer asked.  "How much proof or probable cause is needed to bring someone in for questioning?" another one asked.

One of the most quoted lines in the classic movie Casablanca occurs when a police official orders his men to "round up the usual suspects." The unspoken inference is that officers will pull in numerous known and suspected criminals for some intense interrogation that will identify the culprit.

If it was only that easy.

No one, even suspects, can be taken to the station forcibly unless they are under arrest.  An arrest requires “probable cause” to believe a person committed a crime.  The idea that police can take anyone they need to question to their office involuntarily is a fallacy.

Even prisoners under arrest have a right to remain silent. Thus, it’s apparent that witnesses, “persons of interest,” and suspects can’t be compelled to answer questions.

Unlike what you see on TV, suspect are never questioned in the presence of their
attorneys simply because no credible attorney permits the client to be questioned AT ALL by the police. We attempt to interrogate suspects before they ask for an attorney. If they do ask for one, the interrogation is OVER. There's no more questioning, ever. We could re-initiate questioning with his or her attorney present but that never happens. As I said, no attorney will permit it.  

Again, despite what you see on TV, in 36 years of policing I've never been in a situation where an attorney has been in the interrogation room. If a suspect asks for an attorney, we are required to terminate the interrogation immediately. We don't go call the attorney and say "Hey, your client wants to talk, can you come down here?" The attorney will either tell us to cease all questioning, ask for the suspect to be put on the phone and told not to talk at all, or rarely, the attorney will come down to the station and ensure the suspect isn't questioned.

In those situations where the defense attorney wants to work out a deal by permitting questioning, it's in the presence of a prosecutor after the terms of the deal have been worked out. 

While your character might go to the station for questioning, the police will be careful to establish that the visit is voluntary and that the suspect can leave at any time.  To give the impression that the trip is compulsory creates a risk that any confession might be thrown out.


  1. Very enlightening, Wes! Clearly, I'm watching too much Crime TV. Thanks for straightening me out. Glad you posted this on the yahoo group.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Monica. Hopefully much more content coming between now and Jan. 1 as I have a few end-of-year vacation days.