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Successfully prosecuting Dr. Roach’s case: The dos and dont’s

Upon presentation with a scenario such as this one with Dr. Colin Roach, it is only hoped that the Guyana Police Force has been vigilant from the moment they step on the scene.  When they commence investigations their primary concern should have been and must continue to be evidence gathering.  

Evidence Gathering: This first stage sets the foundation. The stronger the foundation, the smaller the chance that the entire case can later collapse.

Physical Evidence: The investigators need to be as thorough as possible, carefully sweeping the scene for anything of evidential value, being mindful that the scene may extend much further out than the hot spot where the major discovery was made(Like the discovery of the Doctor’s car). They will want to collect physical (or even potential physical) evidence as liberally as possible.

This will include Blood/DNA/ other relevant substances of biological/chemical relevance. Latent fingerprints, Objects of interest: potential murder weapon(s), items found near the scene of potential evidential value.

After the initial evidential sweep, the scene should be closed off to the public and accessible only to police investigators. In this case, when new information is presented to the police like we are now seeing with the arrest of the latest suspect, the police must be able to return to their crime scene to confirm and connect with anything they previously missed or overlooked but is now relevant based on what the latest suspect reveals in his statement.

It is to be ensured that all physical evidence is collected, sealed where needed and that the chain of custody is preserved all the way from when it is first collected to the day of presentation in court.

Medical Evidence: Upon the receipt of medical evidence, the police may need to re-visit the scene.  The post mortem examination will often provide valuable guidance to the police about potential items of interest such as possible murder weapons, the immediate pre and post mortem scenarios, and potential suspects

Video/Audio Evidence: With the ever increasing use of CCTV, the immediate scene and surrounding areas are usually thoroughly swept for potential footage which can help piece together events leading up to, during, and after the incident. In this case, that seems to have been done but the police have to be very guarded to ensure that the manner in which those footage were retrieved and stored are in keeping with procedures which allows them to stand up in court. Dates and times should be properly recorded.

Statements:  The most useful of these will come from eyewitnesses. The police will want to take detailed accounts from any that become available. In this case, the police ate fortunate enough to have obtained statements from suspects. According to Rule 2 of the Judge’s Rules, every suspected person must be cautioned if any statement made by him against his own interest is to be admissible in court.  

Caution Statements:  The police are notoriously accused of coercing persons into giving ‘confessions’.  If indeed they are presented with a suspect who wishes to make a statement, they should take all steps to ensure than they are able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the maker of the statement was sober, comfortable, not under duress and making the statement freely and voluntarily. After being told that they could have a lawyer, friend or family member present, the police should actually make an effort to have such a person present.

A confession made in the presence of such persons would be significantly more difficult to object to in court. Recently, the GPF commenced conducting video and audio recording in the taking of such statements. This is of great help in eliminating the chances of a defence protest that the maker did not give the statement of his or her own free will.  

There are so many things that the police will need to remember; so many things to ensure they do not neglect. Perhaps far more important are some of the main things they should remember not to do.  

Get complacent: Complacency leads to relaxation of effort. This leads to diminished attention to detail.  This is a formula for the neglect of vital procedural steps. Police investigators can sometimes become over confident when the evidence (or even public opinion) points toward an easily winnable case. This has led to costly slips which have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.  

Get lured down the rabbit hole: While the obvious answer is often the correct one, this rule – like all rules – has its exceptions. Police should be slow to dismiss potential scenarios from their thinking at too early a stage. They should let the evidence do the talking and follow where it leads but not so slavishly that they take leave of an open and enquiring mind.

Bungle evidence gathering/handling: Police ranks have broken seals prior to evidence being taken to court, contaminated scenes and objects with their fingerprints, failed to dust conducive surfaces for latent prints, left DNA evidence not analyzed and failed to uplift vital pieces of evidence. These errors have left holes in many matters, some of them large enough for the entire case for the prosecution to leak through.