This post is nearly the last of a 10-part series of posts, the rest of which can be seen here.
Given the title of this series of posts, it is long past time for me to state a premise of my position - one that may surprise some readers:
I believe that we should forget about "arresting people" altogether.
Even if there are good reasons for believing that someone is guilty of crimes, to arrest him (no female suspects have been mentioned to me) is the wrong thing to do
The correct thing is to charge him with the crimes, give him a fair trial and, if found guilty, sentence him
All of that can be done without an arrest, unless the sentence includes a term of imprisonment
Outside the context of police catching people in the act of crime, arrest is an abuse of state power.
"It's a free country", people sometimes say. One of the characteristics of that freedom is that people can only be deprived of their liberty after what the Americans call "due process" has been followed. (It is an American phrase, perhaps, but not a peculiarly, or even originally, American idea - it's in clause 29 of Magna Carta all the way back in 1215, for example).
Forget about what you see and hear on television, and what you hear from your friends. Why are police forces so keen on arresting people and holding them for as long as possible without charge ? After all, the right to silence means that prisoners have no obligation to tell their captors anything, and are best advised to tell them nothing. (It amazes me that well-educated people - even, more shockingly, lawyers - complain about prisoners who "select a point on the wall and stare fixedly at it, for days on end, refusing to say anything".)
Why should he do anything else ? The prisoner is warned that anything said by him may be recorded and "used in evidence against him". Note that he is not promised that things he may say can be used for his defence. Note also that his interrogators may lie to him without penalty, while if he lies to them, or even makes an honest error, it may "hang him".
I am afraid that the reason why police like to arrest suspects and hold them as long as possible before charging them is so that the prisoners can be intimidated and the hope is that the process will result in a confession.
"But", you object, "if police cannot arrest and interrogate people, how can culprits ever be discovered and punished ?"
This is a common view, and a fairly natural one, but it overlooks some rather obvious points:
It is based on the presumption that confessions are both quite common and perfectly acceptable. I do not suggest that a confession is never satisfactory, but a system which excessively relies on confessions is asking for trouble.It gives incentives to police to mis-behave (see below for examples of where that happened).
It is much safer to use testimony from people other than the accused
There is no need to arrest someone, whether s/he be a suspect or not, in order to interview them. Indeed, the police ordinarily have no legal power to arrest people simply to question them.
Interviews, whether of someone expected ultimately to be charged or not, may take place anywhere, not just in police stations.
Have we forgotten so quickly about The Birmingham 6, The Guildford 4 or even the Dean Lyons case ? If so, I recommend that you just read John Grisham's "The Confession" - it may be fiction but people who know about these things will tell you that it is very true to life.