Next - Mr Wang's post, Suspects and their Lawyers, attracted much interest. However, as Mr Wang had previously mentioned, the topic is complicated and not easy to understand. Mr Wang will now provide a real-life example to illustrate how police statements really work in practice.
This example is not meant to make any specific point about the discussion in my previous post. It is merely meant to facilitate general understanding of the role of police statements in the overall investigation process.
Mr Wang has handled hundreds of criminal cases. Most of them have blurred together in his memory. This one, however, stands out in Mr Wang's memory, because it was one of the first few cases he ever handled. If memory serves Mr Wang correctly, it was assigned to him in his first week of work. Here we go:
- 1. Two young women come to the police station at 5 am. Let's call them Ling & Mei. Ling says, "This is my cousin, Mei. She was raped a few hours ago. Please help her." The officer at the counter scribbles the gist of what Ling says into the station diary. This becomes what we call the "First Information Report".
2. Time is vital in these cases. The faster you move, the better your chances of catching the person and securing physical evidence at the crime scene. A police officer quickly asks Mei where she was raped and what the rapist looks like. Room 503, in a well-known swanky 5-star hotel, by a Middle Eastern man named Faisal, fat, balding, in his 40s etc. Immediately, three officers speed off in a police car to the hotel. No time to lose - they can get Mei's full story later.
3. Back at the station, Ling & Mei are placed in separate rooms. Witnesses' statements are always recorded separately - otherwise they may contaminate each other's evidence. Not necessarily deliberately. It could be what the law calls "innocent infection". Witnesses may inadvertently influence each other into thinking that they did hear or see something that they didn't exactly.
4. According to Ling's statement, this was what happened: Mei unexpectedly showed up at her house at around 2 am. Mei asked to spend the night there. Ling said, "What's wrong? Why are you here so late?". Mei said nothing. Mei went to the bathroom. She stayed inside for a long time. Ling got worried. She knocked very hard and insisted on coming in. When Mei opened the door, Ling went in and found that Mei was bleeding heavily. From the vagina. Ling said, "What happened?". Mei said that she had been raped. Ling immediately wanted to call Ling's parents. Mei said no. Ling said, "Let's call the police." Mei said no. Ling insisted. Reluctantly, Mei followed Ling to the police station.
5. Meanwhile, in a separate room, a highly experienced female inspector, Inspector Amy, is recording Mei's statement. Inspector Amy is having a tough time. Mei, a 17-year-old teenager, looks calm enough but her story doesn't make sense. She says that a stranger named Faisal raped her in his hotel room. She had met him for the first time in the hotel lobby at around midnight. Why was Mei there so late? No answer. Why did Mei follow the man to his hotel room? "To take a shower. Then he raped me." Instinct tells Inspector Amy to ask for Mei's purse. It contains, apart from some notes of small denominations, four new $50 bills.
6. By now, the three police officers have reached Room 503 of the swanky hotel which I shall not name. They bang on the door. A sleepy, fat, balding Iranian man opens the door. He identifies himself as Faisal. Faisal is arrested and brought to the police station.
7. Inspector Amy sends Mei for a medical examination. Fresh hymenal tears, indicating that until a short time ago, she was a virgin. No traces of sperm, indicating that the rapist probably used a condom.
8. Faisal is aghast at being arrested. He tells the police that he is a reputable businessman here in Singapore on a business trip (police later check this out and verify this with his business associates). Late that night at the hotel, a young woman approached him in the lobby and asked if he wanted sex. He said, "Ok, how much do you charge." She says, "$200." They go to his hotel room, they take a shower together. Then they have sex. According to Faisal, "She liked it and made a lot of noise." After sex, he pays her $200, 4 new $50 bills, and she leaves. "Having sex with a prostitute is not illegal in Singapore, is it?" Faisal asks.
9. The police interview Mei again. Inspector Amy suggests to her that she wasn't actually raped. Mei denies this. Inspector Amy warns her that it's an offence to lie to the police. Mei denies lying. Inspector Amy says, "Okay. Do you agree to take a lie detector test?" Mei breaks down and admits that she was lying. She gives a 2nd police statement and admits that she was prostituting herself. It was her first time having sex. She was frightened after that and she didn't know what to do when she started bleeding.
10. Just to be sure, the police ask Mei to take a lie detector test anyway. The polygraph expert asks her questions backwards and forwards, twisted round and round, phrased in multiple different ways. Polygraph results indicate that she had been lying about being raped.
A couple of interesting things happened here. Firstly, the victim, Mei, turned out to be the offender (it is an offence to lie to a public officer, and most certainly, it is a serious offence if your lie is that someone has committed rape). Her first statement (see Paragraph 5) becomes the subject-matter of the offence. Her second statement (see Paragraph 9) becomes a confession, a statement that can be used against herself.
Secondly, there are the polygraph results. Polygraph results are generally believed to be highly accurate but due to various controversial and debatable reasons, they are currently not used in actual court cases. In other words, no police officer ever stands up in court and says, "We then did a lie-detector test and we confirmed that X was lying about ABC." This doesn't happen. Basically, judges like to hear for themselves from all the witnesses what each has to say, and then the judge will decide for himself who's lying and who's not. Judges don't like to be replaced by machines.
Nevertheless, polygraphs nevertheless are a highly important tool for the police in their investigations. If nothing else, it is helpful for the police to satisfy themselves whether a witness is lying.
In our case, Faisal is not guilty of rape. However, for the purposes of discussion, let's change the facts somewhat. Assume that Mei did not admit to lying about being raped, and assume that no lie detector was used. In effect, it becomes Faisal's word versus Mei's word, as to what happened in the hotel room.
In such a case, it is extremely, extremely unlikely that the prosecution would charge Faisal with rape. Firstly, any DPP worth his salt would probably doubt that any rape had occurred. A rape may indeed have occurred - however, the legal
standard for securing a conviction is very high (proof beyond reasonable doubt) - that is, the judge must be very, very convinced of Faisal's guilt. If the DPP himself isn't convinced, neither will the judge.
The fact that Mei was present at a hotel lobby late at night for reasons she does not explain already raises a doubt. The fact that she followed a male stranger to his hotel room, knowing that no one else was around raises another doubt. A third doubt is raised by the fact that she received money from the stranger. A fourth doubt is that the alleged "rapist", after sex, made no attempt to run away but instead contentedly went back to sleep until the police officers woke him up by banging on his hotel room door.
With all these doubts, and no other compelling evidence to the contrary, the prosecution will never be able to prove its case of rape beyond reasonable doubt - therefore the prosecution will never even bother to prosecute Faisal.
Back to the actual facts of the case.
What about prosecuting Mei for a section 182 offence (lying to the police)? Let's assume that the prosecution does want to prosecute Mei. That's possible. And here we also see one very important use of the accused's statement.
Faisal, an Iranian businessman, already had to miss his flight home because of this false allegation of rape. He's not going to stick around in Singapore any longer. In other words, he won't be showing up in court to testify against Mei on the lying charge.
His police statement (Paragraph 8) cannot be shown to the judge. Accused persons must of course attend their own trial and also their own police statements (confessions) can be used against them. The laws of evidence, however, generally require other witnesses to personally show up in court to tell their story - statements on their own aren't good enough. Yes, the judge wants to personally see your face, hear your voice. If Faisal does not show up in court, then the judge won't get to hear Faisal's side of the story about what happened in that hotel room. At all.
With Faisal flying back to Iran, the only evidence against Mei is her own statement - (the 2nd statement, where she admitted to lying in her 1st statement). So the prosecution will use Mei's 2nd statement against herself. What will Mei do, in her own defence? Well, if she is determined to fight the case, she only has one logical defence left. She will go to court and allege that she was abused, tortured, threatened etc etc into making her 2nd statement. And that her 2nd statement is actually the false one. And that Inspector Amy made her sit on a block of ice, and took off all her clothes and sprayed her with cold water etc etc.
The DPP will sigh .... Another loooong day in court.
Inspector Amy will take the witness stand, thinking to herself, "Man, I really hate this stupid job."