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Case highlights importance of thorough police probes

Article Originally Published on May 23, 2012 by Advocate Daily. 

The case of an elderly home invasion victim who ended up spending 75 days in jail after making a 911 call, highlights the difficulty police face when they arrive on a scene and make snap decisions to resolve disputes and “clear occurrences,” says Toronto criminal lawyer Aaron Harnett.

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“This case highlights how important it is for officers to do thorough investigations. We rely on their judgment and skill to determine when people are making false and cynical use of the police. Investigators have the tools, but sometimes fail to use them due to lack of experience or time pressures,” says Harnett.

“While I was not counsel on the case and I do not have all the facts, I have had many cases that had this same structure. The most wily complainants know that the first person to get their story out usually gets the upper hand. It seems like in this case, while the elderly gentleman called in first to the police, he was cut off at the pass by the other parties,” he says.

A proper police investigation, says Harnett, must involve thorough interviews of all of the relevant parties.

“When one has a language difficulty, it means things have to slow down, and special attention needs to be paid. Interpreters are available by phone for most major police services,” he adds.

“In my experience, witnesses who have stronger language skills are better at persuading the police during investigations. Police investigators are trained to interview child witnesses with patience, care and special techniques because of their lack of communication skills.

“Elderly witnesses with language difficulties who are under stress during the aftermath of some violent incidents may require the same patience and care to avoid a flawed investigation that leads to injustice,” he says.

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