Frequently Asked Questions on Washington Arrests and Interrogations

An arrest and subsequent interrogation by police typically begins an accused’s exposure to the criminal justice system. Both acts, on the surface, appear relatively straight forward. For example:

  • An arrest is the taking of a person into custody; and,
  • An interrogation is when the police ask a suspect questions.

While this is all true, both terms can involve some very important complex legal technicalities that, if adhered to, can clinch a case for a prosecutor. But, if not complied with, the result for a defendant can mean a reduction in charges or even the dismissal of an entire case.

Our Washington criminal defense attorneys will discuss the following in this article:

1. Can the police arrest a person without a warrant?

2. If a person is arrested, does an officer have to read him “his rights?”

3. Are there exceptions to this rule?

4. What are the specific Miranda warnings?

5. Is there a correct way for a person to exercise his right to remain silent?

6. Should a person invoke his Miranda rights?

7. If a suspect agrees to answer police questions, can he later decide not to answer     questions?

8. What tactics can the authorities use during an interrogation?

9. What is a coerced confession?

1. Can the police arrest a person without a warrant?

The authorities can arrest a person without a warrant if they have probable cause that the person committed a felony or certain more serious misdemeanors.  Officers can also arrest a person on probable cause that the person committed a misdemeanor in the officers’ presence. “Probable cause” means the police have a reasonable belief that a party perpetrated an offense. Note, though, that generally the police will need a warrant to arrest a person in his home unless exigent circumstances are present, such as a reasonable belief that the suspect will destroy evidence or harm the public.

2. If a person is arrested, does an officer have to read him “his rights?”

These so-called “rights” are legally known as Miranda warnings and they originated in a United States Supreme Court ruling, Miranda v. Arizona. Most people are familiar with these warnings via television shows and movies. While we provide all of the warnings below, one quick example is that: “You have the right to remain silent.”

Police do not have to read a person these warnings after they arrest a person and begin questioning him. But, keep in mind that if this occurs, prosecutors cannot use anything that the suspect says as direct evidence against the accused at a later trial. This means that if police do want to use answers against an accused to convict him at trial, they must read him his Miranda warnings.

3. Are there exceptions to this rule?

Two things must be true before police have to read a suspect the Miranda warnings. These are:

  1. The suspect must be in “police custody;” and,
  2. He must be under “interrogation.”

If no custody or no interrogation, then no warnings are required.

Please note that Washington law generally defines “police custody” as when the police deprive a person of his freedom of action in a significant way. This essentially means that an arrest must take place before Miranda warnings are required. However, whether an arrest occurs does not depend on whether the officer says, “you are under arrest.”  Rather, the focus is on the officer’s actions and the understanding of the person being detained.  For example, if an officer approaches a person on the street and asks a simple question, no warnings have to be given because the person is not in custody.

Further, the law states that an “interrogation” usually begins when officers begin asking a person questions that may show he was involved in a crime. Prior to this time, no warnings are required. So, for example, if the police stop a driver and ask for his license, no Miranda warnings have to be given because this basic question is not an “interrogation.”  Similarly, if people under arrest offer up information without being questioned, they have not been interrogated and the statements are admissible even in the absence of Miranda warnings.

4. What are the specific Miranda warnings?

The specific Miranda warnings that police must give to a suspect are:

  • You have the right to remain silent;
  • Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law;
  • You have the right to consult with a lawyer and have that lawyer present during the interrogation;
  • If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you; and,
  • Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?

Keep in mind that many states and jurisdictions may have their own variation of these warnings, and therefore, the precise language may slightly differ from one police department to another.  However, the warnings must convey the core information or they will be legally ineffective.

5. Is there a correct way for a person to exercise his right to remain silent?

There is really no “correct” way for a person to tell authorities that he wants to remain silent. The suspect just has to convey this message before answering a question. For example, he could say:

  • I want to talk to a lawyer;
  • I’m not talking to you;
  • No questions until I see an attorney; or,
  • I exercise my Miranda rights.

Please note, that generally, a suspect has to say something in order to claim his right to remain silent. If the person remains quiet, police can keep asking questions. If this happens, the suspect runs the risk of saying something that may later implicate him in a crime.

6. Should a person invoke his Miranda rights?

We strongly advise that, if a person is in custody and under interrogation, he should invoke his Miranda rights and speak with a lawyer before talking to the police. We advise this for the following six reasons:

  1. The accused is in an unaided position going up against skilled questioners that are trying to gather evidence for an arrest;.
  2. It is extremely difficult for someone being interrogated to be able to determine whether statements will be helpful to the defense or to the prosecution, and it is easy for law enforcement to trick people into making statements that are detrimental to their interests;
  3. Even statements that seem helpful to the defense often can be used by the prosecutor for some purpose;
  4. By answering questions, the suspect may be opening himself up to additional charges;
  5. In cases where it is in someone’s interest to talk to law enforcement, people can often receive immunity for their statements, but this generally can only come from a prosecutor and is difficult to obtain without the assistance of an attorney; and,
  6. An attorney is skilled in the law and can protect the accused against unfair or irrelevant questions.

7. If a suspect agrees to answer police questions, can he later decide not to answer questions?

Yes. When a person invokes his Miranda rights, this means he can stop a police interrogation at any time – even if he already waived his rights before and answered police questions. Again, if a person wants to stop answering questions, he just has to verbally convey this message to the authorities. Once he does, the police must stop asking questions and end their interrogation.

8. What tactics can the authorities use during an interrogation?

The police cannot use physical or psychological coercion when conducting an interrogation. They also cannot use:

  • Torture,
  • Threats,
  • Drugging, and/or
  • Inhumane treatment.

Note, however, that police can use the following to get a suspect to confess to a crime or inform on an offense:

  • Trickery,
  • Lying, and
  • Non-coercive methods.

Given this, it again highly recommended that suspects invoke their right to silence and speak with an attorney prior to answering police questions.

9. What is a coerced confession?

A coerced confession is when a suspect confesses to a crime after the police use one or more of the prohibited questioning tactics discussed above. The confession is said to be coerced because it is not given voluntary. It is only given after the use of force or threats.

Please note that if police do gather information via illegal questioning tactics, then that information cannot be used by the prosecutor at trial. This is true even if Miranda warning were given prior to the statements being made.  In addition, any evidence that the police obtain because of a coerced confession, or illegal questioning, might also be inadmissible at trial. This is what the law refers to as “the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine.”

Further Questions?

Contact Black Law now if you or someone who know might have been the subject of an illegal arrest or an unlawful police interrogation. Our Seattle based criminal defense attorneys know the law and they have the experience that matters. Call Black Law today to get the quality legal representation you deserve and to ensure your freedoms and rights are protected.

HOW CAN WE HELP YOU?

We serve clients throughout Washington including those in the following localities: King County including Bellevue, Kent, and Seattle; Benton County including Kennewick; Chelan County including Wenatchee; Clallam County including Port Angeles; Grays Harbor County including Aberdeen; Kitsap County including Port Orchard; Kittitas County including Ellensburg; Pierce County including Tacoma; Skagit County including Mount Vernon; Snohomish County including Everett; Spokane County including Spokane; Thurston County including Olympia; Whatcom County including Bellingham; and Yakima County including Yakima.