On Watching A Client’s Recorded Statement To The Police

Jamison KoehlerLaw Practice

I am watching a DVD recording of my client’s statement to the detective.  The camera must have a wide-angle lens because my client and the detective take up only a small portion of the screen.  There is also something surreal about two people huddled together in one corner of the room, the cinderblock walls a gray blur around them while I, the unseen viewer, look on from above.

The detective is very clever.  After reading my client his rights and answering a few questions, she has him tell and re-tell the story at least eight times, with each re-telling raising the possibility that he will say something different, creating inconsistencies that the prosecutor could exploit at trial.

My client tells the detective he is concerned that, up until that point, nobody asked him for his version of the incident.  The detective seizes on this.  I wasn’t there, she tells him.  So you need to tell me what happened.

She does the “I’m not quite sure what you mean, could you clarify things for me, please?” thing.  And he obliges. Eight times.  Each time he begins the story anew, I think, no, please don’t tell the story again. But I am relieved when he tells a remarkably consistent story each time. He denies everything. Credibly. He is calm and reasonable. And his version of what happened is very plausible.

After 40 minutes or so, the detective wraps up the interview.  Perhaps she has concluded that she won’t be able to shake him.  She explains the procedure – how he will be kept overnight and brought before a judge the next morning – and then she offers him a glass of water and an opportunity to visit the men’s room.  She is pleasant, respectful, and reassuring.

She leaves.  The camera continues to record. My client sits motionless at the table, his head down and his hands on the table, and I think how quiet it is in this room that holds us both, my client in front of the camera and me looking on somewhere from beyond. I think of the prosecutor, sitting at his computer, studying this same tape for admissions, signs of weakness, and suddenly there are three of us sitting in this room in silence.

My client shuffles his feet and touches his forehead with one hand, and I wonder what is going through his mind. It occurs to me that, during these moments, during the time before a police officer comes into the room to handcuff my client and lead him back to the holding cell, realization must setting in.  My client must understand how an astronaut feels, untethered in space and turning like a planet.