It’s important to get this right, first time. I’ll explain what I mean. If the Gardai are asking you to make a statement about some incident or other, you should seek legal advice. It may be the case that, for example, you’re supposed to have driven poorly on a certain date at a certain place and a complaint has been made against you by a motorist. You will be asked whether you wish to make a statement about this allegation, to “give your side of the story”, to use the phraseology of the Gardai.
You can of course refuse: nobody is obligated to make a statement to the Gardai, ever. But sometimes it makes sense to make a statement, especially if you want to refute the allegation being made against you. In instances such as this, you rarely need to be accompanied by a solicitor, the more so if the complaint is frivolous or vexatious. But there are other alleged complaints, serious complaints, where the presence of a solicitor is very important.
“Innocence” and the Gardai.
If you decide to make a statement to answer a complaint that has been made against you, the working assumption of the Gardai is that you are guilty. That is always the first assumption. The Gardai then proceed to “backwards rationalise” from that assumption and start the interview so that it ends with your admission of guilt.
A preconceived notion of guilt at the outset involves abandoning the traditional notion of what an investigation is supposed to be: the dispassionate gathering of all of the evidence until an objective view of where the evidence is pointing at the conclusion of the investigation can be reached. Something approaching a cold, analytical and objective assessment of the evidence is the conventional notion of what is supposed to happen.
In truth this rarely happens. In truth most detectives are assigned to the detective branch within the Gardai not because of some excellence demonstrated at coolly and rationally assessing evidence, but because they have demonstrated that they are particularly gifted at using their connections with Garda Management to have themselves appointed to lucrative and much sought-after roles such as the Detective Branch.
Though some are genuinely gifted and excellent detectives -I have worked with some of them- many are not. These people are appointees, largely devoid of the skills classically associated with detectives in popular culture. They seek to make up for these deficits by driving their investigations down narrow channels that are impervious to anything that tends to disprove their own preconceived notions, in the hopes that in so doing, they will either frighten or intimidate an admission of guilt from an arrested person.
These people are to be avoided at all costs.
Such men -they are usually men- lack a strong rational core and critical mind. In some it is missing because they simply lack the skills necessary to be a good detective in the first place. In others it is wilfully absent i.e. they don’t care about gathering evidence and reaching an objective assessment; they want you to sign the confession one way or the other.
Instead of satisfying themselves that the complaint that has been made against you is objectively true (e.g. by asking themselves why the complainant has made the allegation, what are their underlying motivations, if any, are there aspects of their complaint that inherently don’t appear to make sense?) this type of detective rushes to judgement immediately and assumes - and this is the mark of every poor investigator – that if a person makes a statement of complaint to a Garda against you, it must be true.
The Value of a Critical Mind
This is a manifestly false reading of human beings. When I qualified as a Garda in 1998, I was assigned to Joe, an older, much wiser Garda than myself. We received a call once to go to a respected public house in Carlow. The complaint received was that a person was on the premises and was refusing to leave when asked to do so. When we arrived we were directed by the bar manager to a well-dressed man in his sixties sitting alone in the pub. Joe told the well-dressed gentleman that we had received a complaint that he was refusing to leave. The gentleman looked up and spoke to us quietly and moderately. “I am the owner of this pub” he said reasonably. “The people who called you are my brother and sister who are managing the pub. I am the licensee of this pub as well as the owner of the pub”. Looking towards his siblings he said: “We are not getting along”.
Angry, Joe approached the brother and sister who had rang us. He demanded to see the pub licence to determine who exactly was the licensee and whether the complaint had any merit. The sister went upstairs to retrieve it but after a 10-minute wait declared that she could not find it, a strange occurrence given that all public houses almost always have their licence displayed in a prominent position. We immediately departed the pub but I learned a valuable lesson from Joe: people, often law-abiding people, will try to use the Gardai to settle old scores with people they dislike and you should always guard against that.
Joe was applying critical thought to a complaint he had received. He did not rush to judgement as many detectives do and refused to allow himself to be used as a weapon by others for their own motives. Many detectives lack even this basic understanding of human motivations and therefore believe as manifest truth a complaint they receive. If they do, these people will drive the investigation down that narrow road, will ignore any apparent contradictions in the complainant’s statement, will repeatedly ask the same questions over and over (i.e. that you committed the criminal act) and will blithely dismiss any evidence that you may raise which tends to disprove the allegations against you or makes it inherently unlikely that the events as described even took place.
Interview rooms and Garda stations are strange places. For the vast majority of people who visit them, the experience is somewhat confusing and even overwhelming. Whatever you thought you knew about how Garda stations or how Garda interviews are conducted is wrong, because that knowledge is almost certainly gained from watching TV shows or a Netflix series. But these shows are not real. Garda stations are.
Preparation is therefore vital. It is imperative that you are sufficiently armed before you arrive at the station. In short, this means discussing with your solicitor all of the potential questions you may be asked as well as the answers that might be appropriate to the individual questions. If your statement is a robust defence of your innocence, then the investigation may be eliminated here after this juncture i.e. after your interview has concluded. If this is successful, then the future prospect of court proceedings vanishes after this stage is concluded. So, this preliminary aspect of the investigation is absolutely paramount.
None of this should be read as a criticism solely of An Garda Siochana. When flaws in the conduct of police investigations have been uncovered, they have been shown to occur frequently in New York (NYPD), Los Angeles (LAPD), New Orleans (NOPD) as well as the London Metropolitan Police, Greater Manchester Police and West, South and North Yorkshire Constabularies.
In short, these findings are replicated in police forces across the globe. The United States Justice Department has investigated and issued harsh denunciations of some police forces about the methods they have utilised in investigating and solving crimes. Of particular note here is the Justice Department’s report into the New Orleans Police Department behaviour in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 which uncovered blatant and repeated breaches of the interviewing of suspects that gave rise to a serious concerns about the validity of many convictions.
You should seek legal advice before you visit a Garda station to make a statement. In many cases the process is relatively straightforward and uncontroversial. Most Gardai are fair and reasonable. But in some cases, especially where the allegation against you or a loved one is serious and you have no idea what you are facing, you should always consider having a solicitor present with you.
The solicitor’s role? To prevent the channelling of the investigation down a narrow road involving repetitive questioning designed to produce answers that conform to a preconceived investigative notion i.e. that you are guilty.
Patrick Horan, 2020.