Who watches the watchers? You do, that's who.

By Peter Janowski

This week saw Glenlake Paralegal in the courtroom acting as an agent for a young man who was charged with careless driving while operating a mountain bike. As it was told to me, the cyclist was in the bike lane and hit a stopped car in the rear end.

The case never made it to a judge when, after the prosecutor looked over the evidence, the charge was dropped.

It’s another story of a lack of appropriate investigation and lack of appropriate note taking by a police officer during a collision investigation where charges were eventually laid. The details would be laughable in a sit-com but our client was in jeopardy of real fines and demerit points.

On the street there are no accidents, there are only “collisions”. Police come upon the scene of a collision and make judgements. They talk to involved parties and witnesses and they take notes. Then they lay charges.

Police are, like you and me, hard wired to reach conclusions about a given situation. “Over the past two decades of neurological research, it has become increasingly clear that the way we experience the world--our perception, behaviour, memory, and social judgment--is largely driven by the mind's subliminal processes and not by the conscious ones, as we have long believed”.*

Do not expect the police to find the right answer.

Recognize that anything you say can be wholly or selectively used against you. Your convincing and heartfelt assertions of innocence at the scene may not be heard in court. Always consider that there will be charges laid and that you may not be able to tell when you have gone from “Driver A” to “Suspect”.

It is the prosecution, not the defense who will decide what things you have said during questioning by police will be introduced into evidence.

Anything said can go on a permanent record and be difficult to retract. More so, a retraction can damage your credibility.

Take a moment to gather your thoughts. “I don’t know what happened”, may be a better initial statement.

It may force the police into looking more closely at the evidence. You are not admitting guilt, because you are not saying anything.

Think of the statement, “I hit that car because I didn’t see it.”

Sounds pretty damning. The police may write that down in their notes, and not write down, “I didn’t see that car because I was focused on another car that swerved into my lane and was on a collision course with me.”

“I didn’t see that car because of a sudden and unexpected blinding glare.”

“I didn’t see that car when it pulled over for a fire truck siren that was almost a kilometre away.”

Those are all very different assertions than “I didn’t see it”.

Police can take poor notes and annotate after the fact.

Don’t impede an investigation, but take a breath and say, “I don’t know, let me think.”

One side’s story can be taken as fact, without corroboration.

Police can be wrong.

We have a tendency to say, “sorry”, it’s a natural part of language. It doesn’t constitute an admission of guilt, but be on guard against your natural tendency to be a polite Canadian and gush at an investigating officer.

NEXT WEEK: Teaching your teenager to repeatedly and politely say, “Am I under arrest? Can I go now?”

See: Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behaviour, Leonard Mlodinow

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