I will be short, unusually, and I'm writing this on the fly, out of anger, mostly toward myself at the moment, as I am stuck in a criminal case which has not been judged yet, but which is waiting to be heard, meaning the preliminary investigations are over : I was asked only a few days ago to be the defender’s lawyer, I unfortunately wasn't with him before that.
This case deals with alleged rape, quite old, of an under fifteen years old by an ancestor, and could have been a sadly common “classic case”, even though I hate using these words, one of the many cases involving real or alleged incestuous facts which fills-up the criminal courts...
A young woman, who left the family house a long time ago, showed up at the police station to denounce facts of sexual abuse and rape, committed by her father and which may have taken place several years earlier, while she was ten to sixteen years old or so.
She has never talked before, nobody saw nor felt something was up, large family, humble people : apart from her close friends, to who she told everything and convinced her to file a complaint, mainly because of her unwellness, and the policemen, then the judge in charge of the preliminary investigations, nobody is really believing her among her family and entourage of the time, especially since, as a child, she would tell a lot of lies, and for everybody she seemed to love her father in a “normal” way...
In brief, you got it, it is, mainly, her word against her father's word – as usual.
It is even more true in this case for my client loves his wife, with who he has classic relationships, he had others before her with no anomaly nor special frustration, he never did anything to another of his children or to anybody, no criminal record, liked by everybody, nothing in his behaviour (he has a job, friends, doesn't drink...) or his psychology indicate anything but a normal, usual life, like yours and mine.
But it's not the story that I want to tell you, not this time, for I don't even know the end.
For a few hours now, I have been doing the first work that has to be done before anything else, especially, to my mind, before meeting the defendant for the first time : I am reading all the procès verbaux1 , voluminous, in chronological order : from the first investigations, and then the preliminary investigations made by the judge.
The man, put in custody shortly after the complaint was filed, strongly negated the facts, during several interrogations. I even think that the police officer in charge of the investigations may have seriously doubted at some point, for he thought necessary to re-hear the plaintiff and give her, point by point, the negations of her father – which is really something not often done. Anyway, she maintained all the accusations, she only admitted some mistakes, but also gave arguments, as much as she could.
So, what has to be done in such a case was then done : a confrontation.
But I frowned when I read the procès verbal of this confrontation, weird : instead of the usual statement that the plaintiff told her accusations again in front of the man she is accusing, and the confirmation of the defendant's negations, this time the policeman only read the statement of the young woman, in front of her and without letting her talk even once, and then made my client react, who denied once again, in front of his silent daughter.
This is a rather unusual method, for the whole point of a confrontation, especially in sexual abuse cases, is mainly to allow the one who says she is a victim to talk in front of her aggressor, to see if his presence doesn't change her story, and to hope, in the other way around, that the story and the presence of the victim will move the heart of the negating defendant, which is something supposedly easiest to do in the office of a policeman than in front of his own crying daughter – for one of the difficulty of these case is that, often, in spite of the alleged facts and accusations, real fatherly and filial love still exists : that's why talking is that hard, for each one...
However, in this case, the man kept negating. Then, the policeman states, not nastily by the way, more in desperation, and with a rather rare sentence, that he told my client that he thought he was lying, and that he begs him, “in the name of his daughter, and to save her and help her get better, to tell what really happened.”
In reaction to this emotional statement, it is written in the procès verbal, which is supposed, I am telling you again, to give exact records of the conversations, especially of the asked questions, (and the confrontation was not video-recorded, which was already illegal at the time, but nobody picked it out, and took place without a lawyer being present, which was still legal2 ), that my client “looked down”, and then : “I will tell you the truth, but not in front of her, I want to tell it to you ina statement, alone. But I confess.”
End of this strange “confrontation”, which was seen, as stated in the end of the document, by two policemen and the plaintiff, who didn't say a word.
Next is, as he so nicely and spontaneously suggested himself, a new and last hearing of my client under custody, in which he confesses a big part of the alleged facts, and saying he previously lied out of shame.
At this point, I am at the end of the custody time, and, a little used to that, I know that, first, the tirade that the policeman was kind enough to write, which is sometimes not even the case, must have been in reality a little more insistent, even rough, that what is stated; and that the following will be either our man, in front of the judge in charge of the investigations, still admitting the main parts of the facts and validating his last confession to the policemen, either going back and arguing that he was put under pressure to confess.
And I'm not wrong : in the first hearing in front of the judge, just after the end of the custody, and this time with a lawyer, the one on duty, he keeps aknowledging some facts, but negates most of them, and later, incarcerated, through mail and during hearings, he will negate everything, telling that during interrogations he was told that he would not go to jail if he confessed, that the judge will take it into account, that other way he could get a ten years sentence and it would upset everybody if he kept on lying – and nothing was recorded in the procedure of course...
In the same way, he will tell that he thought, and the advices of “his” lawyer, when going to the Courthouse, comforted him, that he would not go in detention, which was demanded by the Attorney, if he confessed, even though, exhausted, he still tried to correct the reality...
This kind of story, and this chronological course of events, and this statement, that we can sum up with the sentence so often read “policemen told me to say that”, you may have heard this a hundred of times, and the judges and lawyers a hundred times more...
He kept this story through time and hearings, supported by his family who doesn't believe it neither, he is the victim of a miscarriage of justice, widely set up by the investigator, and I already know that he will say the same things at the hearing, that the policeman will be summoned in front of the court as a witness, and that he will swear that, of course, interrogations are no tea-parties, that of course he “put him under pressure”, he even stated it in the statement of the interrogation, for he was sure the man was lying, and for his own good and the discovery of the Holy Truth, but in no way it was unlawful, and not in the way the defendant told so : “You know, Your Honour, we are used to it, they all say that, we have to deal with it...” , and the judge will certainly nod, with a weary smile...
Word for word, why shouldn't I say it : the same weary smile I have right now, this far in the reading of the case, since it is indeed often like that, since we often hear the same old tune and often when the confession concerns indeed, real facts, since it is difficult, comfortably seating in a heated office, with knowledge of criminal procedure, and without any stress, to understand – even as a lawyer, even now, after all this time – how a man can end up confessing horrible crimes, if he didn't commit them...
Since I sometimes am unworthy.
Because I don't know if the facts are real or not, if my client really committed them or not – a Court will answer these questions, later.
But what I know, for I kept reading my file, and got back in mind what should never leave it, even for a split moment, the culture of doubt, not choosing to believe or not believe at first...
What I know, right now, is that a woman was, also, carefully heard again by the judge in charge of the investigations, and stated the same thing that she told during the first interrogations, but for a few variations.
And in the end of the hearing, the judge asked him the following question :”During police interrogations, and partly during the interrogation in the hearing, the defendant confessed the biggest part of the alleged facts. However since he kept claiming he was innocent, through mail and during hearings. He explains that the policemen forced him to confess, during the confrontation, by telling him that if he did so, he would be free. What do you think?”
And that I am not sure if she was expecting the answer, which I can only rewrite here, in its entirely :
“It's true that at first, he said “No, no, no, it's no true”. He always found reasons. He said I was saying that because I was looking for revenge and we didn't get along any more, that I had left the family and was angry at him... And ten he asked the policemen : “When will I get out, I am fed up with that”. And that's when the policement told him it was simple, he only had to tell the truth. They also told him : “If you confess what you did, it will be taken into account, we can help you get cured and set free, whereas if you don't confess, you could go to jail for at least ten years”. But they didn't tell him to confess only to get out. They told him to tell the truth. The policemen never told to agree just to be left alone. They only set up a trap to make him tell the truth, for they saw that it was true. And in the end, they told him : “Did you do stuff to xxx?”, and he said yes. And then everybody stayed quiet, and the policemen took out the procès verbal. To my mind, somebody who didn't do anything, even if you tell him that he has to confess to get out, will always say that he didn't do anything. Somebody who didn't do anything, if you tell him : “If you confess, you get out, but if you negate, you go to jail”, I would think to myself, if I didn't do it, if it's nonsense and you can't put me in jail if I don't confess.”
That's what the daughter of my client, now plaintiff, remembered from the “confrontation”.
No, I don't know the end of the story. But this, at least, which was only stated by the defendant... This, was true.
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