As many times as we have heard the words on TV, few people understand their right to remain silent when being questioned by police. One recent story illustrates why it is so important to know, understand, and exercise this right.
An attorney representing a man who was accused the fatal shooting and dismembering of a businessman in West Vancouver recently argued that statements made by his client to the police were likely coerced.
A number of factors are said to have contributed to Li Zhao’s confession being involuntary, not the least of which being that he was left hungry and cold in a Vancouver city jail cell prior to being interviewed by police.
The attorney, Ian Donaldson, argued that whether the starving and freezing were deliberate or not, they contributed to the suspect confessing.
Zhao, aged 56, has entered a not guilty plea to the charge of second-degree murder of millionaire Gang Yuan in May of 2015. He also pled not guilty to the charge of interfering with a human body.
Donaldson entered a pretrial motion to have two statements Zhao made to police ruled as inadmissible. During interviews with police, Zhao confessed to shooting Yuan outside Yuan’s home, dragging the body inside, and using a power saw to dismember the body.
Donaldson further argued that, on top of the unfair conditions Zhao experienced in jail, his client was not properly read his rights, informing him of his right to remain silent, or that anything he said could be used as against him as evidence in court.
Donaldson referred to the warning as, “misleading [and] ineffective.” He further stated that the circumstances surrounding the confession induced his client to offer self-incriminating information to police.
In contrast, Kristin Bryson, Crown counsel argued that the goings-on during the interview of Zhang is what matters most. She further noted that no promises or threats were ever made to the accused by police.
Bryson did, however, admit that the the conditions at the jail were not ideal while maintaining that they also were not inhumane. In short, there was no evidence connecting the conditions at the jail with Zhang’s willingness to speak to police.
Bryson also asserted that Zhang had been told that he should not talk to the police and was, in fact, informed that his words could be used against him in court. She also noted that Zhao was a person of intelligence and seemed adequately alert and engaged during the interview.
Simply put, the accused had the right to remain silent but did not exercise it. He now finds himself in a legal quagmire, attempting to assert his innocence after making damning statements to police. This is a clear example of why exercising one’s right to remain silent is always in his or her best interest.
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