Just as Ms Soapbox was fretting over Prime Minister Harper’s decision to appoint former CSIS director Richard Fadden to the newly created post of National Security Advisor she received an invitation from Assentio Mentium.
Assentio Mentium is a program offered by the U of C law school to engage lawyers, alumni, academics, business people and students on current legal issues.
This month’s offering? Anatomy of a Homicide Investigation. At last! A chance to pull back the curtain and find out what homicide investigations are really like.
Detective Matt Demarino, a seasoned and highly entertaining investigator, kicked things off with an overview of the investigative process. Assistant Chief Crown Prosecutor Susan Pepper, provided thoughtful comments and Alain Hepner, QC (that rumpled legend of the defence bar) spoke on behalf of the suspect—known in the defence world as the “client”.
It quickly became apparent that in an ideal world a properly conducted homicide investigation serves in justice and protects the suspect’s civil liberties.
The investigation…in an ideal world
A homicide investigation is triggered when uniformed police “push the big red button” after attending at a crime scene and determining a homicide has taken place.
Calgary police believe in “front end loading”. Forty to 200 investigators are sent to the scene. They identify witnesses and take them back to headquarters to be interviewed.
The investigation team members are assigned based on their position “in the chute”. The team includes a team commander who briefs the media and runs interference with senior management, a primary investigator with overall responsibility for the investigation, a file coordinator to manage the documentation including the “disclosure” to defence counsel and a scribe who maintains a chronological record of the investigation.
Investigators lock down the site, visit the nosy neighbours, gather footage from commercial and residential security cameras and obtain warrants to access the crime scene, telephone records, computer files, etc.
The team works out of the Board Room which looks like an ordinary board room but for the graphic pictures plastered on the walls and the TV monitors hooked up to the closed circuit cameras in the interview room.
The interview…in an ideal world
A suspect must be charged or released within 24 hours of his detention. He’s advised of his rights and, if he has an ounce of common sense, calls his lawyer.
He’s interviewed by an interviewer who is “matched” to the suspect in an effort to build rapport (an athletic suspect gets the fit cop not the fat cop). The interview is observed by the 20 or so investigators holed up in the Board Room.
The interviewer presents all the evidence—fingerprints, security camera footage, witness statements—and asks the suspect for an explanation. The objective is to get admissions, large or small, that will unlock the bigger picture.
While it’s legal for interviewers to continue to question suspects even if they refuse to respond, interviewers cannot lie (saying your DNA was found on the body when it wasn’t) or use oppressive tactics to force a false confession.
Ms Pepper, the Crown prosecutor, says suspects naturally want to defend themselves against accusations and provide their side of the story. Defense counsel Mr Hepner strongly advises his clients to say nothing to the police.
Some listen, others don’t. A skillful interviewer can get the accused to describe the homicide, re-enact it on closed circuit TV and offer a video-taped apology to the victim’s family which will be given to the family after it’s presented in court.
A matter of degree
The panelists agreed that an innocent person is rarely charged with murder. The real issue is a matter of degree—first degree, second degree or manslaughter. What a suspect says, how he says it, his little lies and the half-truths will shape the charges he’ll be facing. The “wrong” degree can result in 15 additional years in prison.
A less than perfect world
Unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world. Homicide investigations go off the rails. Investigators get tunnel vision, mistakes are made, evidence is misplaced, exculpatory evidence is discounted and disclosure to the defence is incomplete.
Recent terrorist attacks have made the real world (or at least our perception of it) more treacherous. The elements of human fallibility and ambition that can drive a homicide investigation into the gutter will be bolstered by Mr Harper’s decision to enact new laws giving the police and security forces greater powers of detention, surveillance and “preventative arrest”.
Not surprisingly the police are on board. RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson says the law needs to change because the police currently cannot charge anyone who has yet to commit a crime.
Mr Harper is bringing national security under his direct control. He’s appointed Richard Fadden, former head of CSIS, as his new National Security Advisor. Fadden is responsible for domestic and international security. He’s long been focused on old fashioned, low tech lone-wolf attacks.
Fadden is convinced that “the elites” and media see terrorists as “quasi-folk heroes” and view acts of terrorism as instances of “revolutionary charm”. Really???
Harper and Fadden are taking steps to protect dewy-eyed Canadians from themselves; but before they beef up the police state they should ask us whether we’re prepared to pay the price—reduced civil liberties in exchange for the perception of enhanced security.
Not everyone believes the trade-off is worth it. Consider this. Next up on the Assentio Mentium program is The Contemporary Relevance of the Magna Carta. Excellent choice. Has there ever been a better time to reflect on rulers who govern by vis et voluntas (“force and will”) under the doctrine of the divine right of kings?