Police questioning is the process by which police officers interrogate accused persons in an attempt to illicit self-incriminating evidence for use at trial. Questioning of accused persons, along with other witnesses, is an integral part of nearly every criminal investigation. Police officers do not have “powers” of questioning, i.e. they cannot force accused persons to provide incriminating statements – accused persons have a right to silence protected by the Charter. However, police are free to persuade or trick accused persons into divulging incriminating evidence.
Because of the dangers of false confessions – which have led to false convictions – restrictions have been placed on the methods that police officers may use in questioning accused persons. These restrictions are meant to ensure that confessions are voluntarily given before they become evidence in trial. The Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a confession was voluntary. Confessions may not be voluntary because improper inducements or threats were made, oppression circumstances existed during questioning, or the accused person was not of sound mind at the time of the confession. Moreover, police are not allowed to use certain forms of trickery to obtain confessions, but the standard is high – the police trickery must be so appalling as to shock the community before a confession will be excluded from evidence.
The unfortunate answer is: it depends. All persons have a right to silence when being questioned by police in the course of a criminal investigation. However, there are situations in which persons must divulge select information to police whether they want to or not. For example, accused persons must furnish certain information to police when they are subjected to a traffic stop – there is no right to silence in refusing to provide motor vehicle documents.
Accused persons often unwittingly provide information to police officers because they are unaware of police tactics and the criminal process generally. If you are facing a criminal questioning, understanding your legal rights will help you act in your legal interest. If you have been subjected to a police questioning, you likely have questions about the criminal process and about your legal jeopardy. Experienced defence counsel can help you make informed choices that advance your legal interests.
If you have any questions, contact our offices now so we can help address you or your loved one’s legal jeopardy. We are available 24/7. We are forceful advocates and we ensure that our clients throughout Alberta are provided with the best defence possible.