Monday, April 20, 2015

Write Away: Q is for Questioning

Questioning breaks down into two main categories, legally speaking: interviews and the interrogation. (So many I words, so little time!)

Interview questioning is conducted with people not charged with a crime (yet or ever). Interrogation is the questioning of a suspect in custody.

Interview questions can either be with suspects (before they are taken into custody) or to gather information from witnesses or possible witnesses. If questioning someone police suspect of the crime, there is no need to provide a “Miranda” warning. Mirandizing is only done when the suspect is in custody with the intent to question. More on this below.

The interview is procedural, and while there may not be formalized rules for conducting interview questioning, each department will advise law enforcement officers of their expectations for conduct. So that turning off the camera thing so the officer can intimidate the suspect? Not gonna happen.

After a homicide or other felony, detectives question others to try to amass information those people have. Most questioning via interviews is with non-suspects. The purpose of interviews at the scene of the crime is to identify who saw what when and where.

Follow-up questioning by interviews might be with those same witnesses as new information is revealed or interviews might be conducted with people not at the crime scene but who are thought to have pertinent facts about the case.

Interrogation questioning occurs when the suspect is in custody and has received a “Miranda” warning. The intent of the interrogation is to determine if the detectives can gather enough information to prosecute this suspect.

Some law enforcement officers tell amusing stories about full confessions coming about before the suspect is charged. Uninformed suspects think they can say anything they want and it won’t count unless they received the “Miranda”. However, if someone volunteers information to an officer prior to being put into custody, it counts. Dumb crooks!

The “Miranda” warning originated with a case in my state of Arizona, named after the suspect in the case. The Supreme Court ruled that you can’t question  a suspect in custody without providing a “Miranda” warning:
  • You have the right to remain silent.
  • If you do say anything, what you say can be used against you in a court of law.
  • You have the right to consult with a lawyer and have that lawyer present during any questioning.
  • If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you if you so desire.
  • If you choose to talk to the police officer, you have the right to stop the interview at any time.

There are exceptions to questioning while in custody the Court allowed stemming from later cases. If the suspect is in custody for one crime, you are allowed to question him/her (sans “Miranda”) about a different crime if it is in the interest of public safety. A second exception is it's allowed to ask standard booking questions. The third exception is when a jailhouse informant talks with the suspect.

When writing scenes of questioning people, authors need to get it right. Again, do not rely on TV shows for your models of questioning, either interviews or interrogations.

Read More:

In “the List”, things are not looking so good for Frieda’s future with Mort.

Quietly he said, “You know we’ve never really . . . what? Meshed? I suppose it’s as much my fault as yours. Hell, it’s nobody’s fault. We been married, what? 45 years?”
            “Forty-three,” she responded, tight-lipped.
            “Forty-three then. For 42 and a half of ‘em, you been miserable. Or acted like it anyway. I thought I’d be the one, finally, to make the move. But I wanted to make sure you had good transportation and a place of your own. I didn’t want to leave you cold.”
            Frieda sat silently, stonily still, processing what he had said. She roused herself, running a hand through her red, chemically curled hair to hide its trembling.


  1. I learned something. I always thought questioning and interrogating were interchangeable, but such is not the case. :)

    1. Questioning is kind of the bigger category meant to include kinds of questioning. Trying to tease out the nuances is one reason this is so much fun.

  2. There's a whole art to interrogation--it's always so interesting to watch the police interrogate suspects on shows like Dateline. They have a way of mentally working a person.

  3. Stephanie, I learned way too much to include here, so I am doing an upcoming blog post on on how to question (interrogate and interview) later this spring.