HOW TO WRITE A STATEMENT WITH THE POLICE UPON ARREST.
Ever wondered why some Police officers often try to convince suspects to write a statement after which they come up with a bogus amount to secure bail or threaten to go to court after the statement is obtained? The suspect may have just incriminated him/herself.
The effect of a written statement whether made extra judicially or not should never be underrated. Written statements are interpreted as they appear, and the Courts give effect to what is presented before them. There have been cases where a suspect wrote something contrary to what actually transpired perhaps under duress, and proving otherwise posed a huge challenge. While it is not in doubt that many statements made at Police stations were done under coercion, it is not an easy task for a lawyer to prove this and convince the Court not to rely on such statements, or attach any weight to it.
Some poorly written statements and confessions made by suspects out of fear have weakened the chances of a positive outcome for an otherwise easy case. Thus, lawyers would struggle to build a defense and prove the innocence of a suspect. In some cases, lawyers are forced to enter a plea bargain for a reduced sentence or a fine because of a poorly written statement. Suffice to say that plea bargain is only a procedure that accelerates the judicial process. It does not diminish the fact that the accused is an ex-convict. Thus, it is important for a suspect to always remember that a written statement must not be made carelessly as it has far reaching implications.
Again, every statement recorded or made with the police becomes a public document and can be accessed by anybody upon making the required application to the relevant authority. Any statement or petition can resurface in future. Having this in mind, it is pertinent that a suspect takes due care in writing a statement. It is equally advisable to insist on the right to have an Attorney or Lawyer of choice available before making any statement.
Section 35 (2) of the Constitution as Amended provides for the right of an accused person(suspect) to a Lawyer and section 17 (3) of the Rivers State Administration of Criminal Justice Law provides for the statement to be taken in the presence of a lawyer. Thus, not only does a suspect have the right to a Lawyer but the Lawyer’s presence is required when a written statement is being made by the suspect. It is worth mentioning that where an individual is deprived of the right to make a statement in the presence of a lawyer, it could be a condition for dismissing a charge. Having this in mind, it is the right and duty of a suspect to insist on his/her right to a lawyer. The presence of a lawyer is very helpful. First, it will curtail excessive use of force and will make the officers in charge to act within the bounds of the law.
There have been instances where police officers would write a statement and compel a suspect to sign the statement with a threat of death or incarceration. There have also been instances where the police officers promised not to go to court. The court in so many judicial decisions has taken judicial notice of the fact that confessional statements are ‘beaten out of suspects’ and most times the lawyers are not able to prove that the statements obtained are not voluntary. See the case of OWHORUKE V COP (2015) NWLR (pt 1483)557 at 576.
Where the right to a Lawyer is resisted by the officers in charge and a suspect is being forcefully compelled to make a statement, it should be noted that no charge can be brought in court by a Police officer without the statement because it is the foundation upon which charge is brought. Thus, a suspect should not be in a haste because whatever is written hurriedly just to get out of the Police station could make or mar the suspect’s case. Many innocent people have ended up in jail as a result of poorly written statements.
There is a general apprehension citizens have when invited by the police or any Federal Agency for questioning probably as a result of the poor human rights record of these agencies in dealing with suspects generally which is understandable. This piece is to help provide some guidance on how to write a statement when requested to do so.
Where a suspect is given a sheet of paper and asked to write a statement, the following can be used as a guide:
- Educational history
- Brief narration of the incident that led to the police invitation or arrest. Narration should include whether you know any person involved in the matter, how you know that person/your relationship, what you know about any property in the matter, etc.
Brevity and simplicity are very important because the more a suspect writes, the more the likelihood of mistakes or flaws in the written statement. A suspect should be wary of writing what s(he) cannot explain or justify.
Another method that could be employed by investigative officers is verbal questioning which would require the suspect to write answers to the questions. In such a case, the suspect should ponder on each question before proceeding to answer and get clarification where the need arises.
SAMPLE OF A POLICE STATEMENT
“My name is John Ikpem. I am from Rumuepirikom, Mile 4, Port Harcourt Rivers State now residing at 12, Busy Lane, PHALGA, Rivers State. (I attended Golden Child Primary School, Rumepirikom and Evergreen Secondary school, Omoku, all in Rivers State). I am a graduate of Petrochemical Engineering from Rivers State University and I am the first son of my parents. I work as a delivery agent with Stilleto Nigeria Ltd. I don’t know the deceased. I had never met her till the day of the incident. I was on my way to deliver a parcel to a customer at Rumuigbo at about 3pm in the afternoon on the 5th day of June, 2018. I noticed that the victim was a little girl and by that time she was chasing her sisters to meet up with them when the traffic started moving. The sisters had already crossed over to the other side of the road without her. As she ran towards them, I tried to avoid hitting her but despite my effort, there was a slight impact from my car on her which caused her to fall. I stopped and rushed her to the nearest clinic for treatment. I didn’t hit her intentionally. She didn’t even look because she was trying to catch up with her sisters who had crossed without her”.
Note: This article is only for enlightenment and awareness and does not constitute legal advice. Please seek professional guidance in the event of an incident.
ThankGod Ndukwu Esq. is an Associate at Accord Legal Practice, Port Harcourt Nigeria. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org