Investigations are part and parcel of every prosecution in Singapore, whether they are for serious criminal offences like murder and rape, or relatively minor ones like traffic offences.
Whether you think you are guilty of the offence or not, it’s always a good idea to engage a lawyer as soon as possible. Even if the investigations have not started yet and you have not been interviewed, a lawyer would be able to advise you on what to expect during the interview process, discuss possible charges you may be facing and defences to those charges.
Nevertheless, many people put off speaking to a lawyer until after they have been charged. While this is not wrong in and of itself, we would strongly advise you to speak to a lawyer once you know you are being investigated, especially if you have reason to believe that you may have committed an offence. Do also take note that if you have engaged a lawyer before you have been charged, the lawyer cannot accompany you during formal investigations and interviews, unlike what you see in foreign movies.
Whether you speak to a lawyer immediately or later, here are a few pointers on what to expect during the investigation/interview stage and what to do or say if you are under investigations for a criminal or other offence in Singapore.
Do take note that in this article, we only discuss matters before a formal charge is levelled against you.
Prove Your Innocence
The law is based on facts and evidence. We have seen so many people from all over the world who have been punished for crimes they did not commit, and people who get let off scot-free because there was insufficient evidence against them.
If you are quite certain of what you may be investigated for and are very sure that you were not at the place where the offence was committed, or you have other evidence which points to your innocence, do take pro-active steps to make it easy for yourself, the investigators and your lawyers. Secure the evidence you need so that you may confidently assert your innocence. You may:
- Secure CCTV footage from neighbours, your condominium’s or other building’s management, etc to show that you were not there, or to show that you did not do what was alleged.
- Approach possible witnesses to cooperate with you and the investigators to show that you are innocent. However, be careful – you do not want to coach, force, influence or bribe such witnesses. Even if you don’t do those things, you need to be especially mindful that you are not committing an offence by influencing witnesses or tampering with evidence. This is another reason why it is important to approach a lawyer as soon as possible. An experienced lawyer will be able to advise you on the proper way to approach such witnesses or secure the evidence that you need. In most cases, the lawyer does it for you.
- If there is a scene of crime or any other location relevant to your case, it may be a good idea to visit the site/s to take photographs for you to guide your lawyer about the events and locations in question.
- If your location and whereabouts are key to your innocence:
- Check your mobile applications for proof of your movements. For example, Google Maps and Grab come with geo-location data which may be reproduced in court to prove that you were not physically present at the relevant location when an offence was being committed.
- Request for building access records.
- Consider proof from your In-vehicle Unit for your location at relevant gantries
- Consider proof of your electronic transactions via ATM, EZ-Link or other cards to place you at a location where it would have been impossible for you to have committed the crime.
- Come up with a chronological breakdown of events. This exercise often helps you to remember details correctly, and would make it a lot easier for your lawyer to understand your case and decide how best to defend you.
Do Not Approach the Victim
It is best not to approach the victim at all. Such physical meetings may turn into quarrels or altercations, and you may even find yourself blamed for influencing or threatening the victim.
Even if you are (i) making a sincere apology to the victim or (ii) returning or giving something to the victim, it is best not to do it physically, directly or verbally. Always use third parties as go-betweens.
Provide All Details
The police have a right to ask for and receive your full name, home address and NRIC Number. You may be guilty of an offence and arrested if you refuse to provide these details.
The English Language
If you are asked to make a statement by any authority, take note that the recording language is usually English. If you have difficulties with the English language, do tell the investigator or statement recorder as soon as possible. They are under a duty to ensure you are interviewed and your statement is taken in a language that you understand.
Tell the Truth
Always tell the truth. Lying to the police or other authorities may put you at risk of committing another offence, some of which we discuss below:
- Section 177 of the Penal Code stipulates that anyone who is legally bound to provide information to the authorities but knowingly offers false information instead may be punished with a fine of up to $5,000, imprisonment of up to 6 months or both.
- Section 182 of the Penal Code stipulates that anyone who intentionally provides a public servant with wrong information to mislead them into using their lawful power for injuring or annoying another person, or doing or omitting anything that a public servant would otherwise do or omit to do, will be liable to a jail term of up to 2 years, a fine, or both.
- Section 203 of the Penal Code makes it an offence for you to purposefully give the police false information despite knowing or having reason to believe that a crime has been committed. If guilty of this offence, you may be sentenced to a jail term of up to 2 years, a fine or both. This offence targets the misleading of police by one person to help someone else escape the legal consequences of his or her actions.
- Please take note that statutes other than the Penal Code also make it an offence for you to lie to authorities other than the police. These authorities include authorities like IRAS (Internal Revenue Authority of Singapore), MOM (Ministry of Manpower) and MOH (Ministry of Health).
However, in telling the truth you should keep 2 important things in mind:
- You do have a right not to incriminate yourself in your statements; and
- An adverse inference may be drawn against you if you choose to rely on something in your defence which you fail to bring up during the investigations but subsequently choose to bring up in court.
Let’s discuss these 2 important points in turn
Right against Self-Incrimination
If what you may tell the investigator about events may expose you to a criminal charge, you do not have to say it. This is governed by Section 22 (2) of the Criminal Procedure Code, which makes it a duty upon you to state truly what you know of the facts and circumstances of the case, except that you need not say anything that might expose you to a criminal charge, penalty or forfeiture.
Do take note, however, that you should carefully balance this right of yours against the right of the court to draw an adverse inference against you for your silence, which we discuss below.
If you do have a defence, explanation or proof that you are innocent of the offence you are being investigated for, and you do not actually inform the investigator of this defence, explanation or proof, and then you later raise it in court as a defence, the judge will be entitled to view your defence with a very healthy dose of suspicion and skepticism. This entitlement of the court to draw adverse inferences against you is covered by Section 261 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
So, do you keep silent about your involvement in an offence because it incriminates you or do you tell the investigators what you know so that an adverse inference will not be drawn against you later?
This is a complex question, the answer to which may vary depending on the circumstances of your case. Do approach an experienced lawyer for advice as soon as possible if you are not sure.
You may be asked to take a polygraph test – Although polygraph tests results are inadmissible as evidence in the Singapore courts, the police use these tests from time to time to assist them in assessing suspects and their possible culpability for offences. While you may choose to decline to take such tests, do keep in mind that the police may draw an adverse inference against you for having declined the test, and may even take a further statement from you to record your reasons for declining the test.
Remember Your Rights
While being interviewed for any offence and your statement is being taken from you, you are entitled to ask for:
- Food and drinks
- Toilet breaks
- Medical attention
- Each request to be recorded officially
- Amendments or deletions to any part of your statement
Remember Your Statement and Write it Down for Your Lawyer
If you have already been charged, or if you have decided to see a lawyer after your statement is taken because you are quite sure that you may be charged, write out your statement as accurately as possible for your lawyer. This will make it easy for the lawyer to represent you more effectively.
A good defence to any prosecution in the courts always starts with good preparation. The sooner the preparation starts, the better. In the best-case scenario, you would have engaged a lawyer once you have a reason to suspect that you may be called up for interviews by the authorities. If, for some reason or other, you do not see a lawyer as advised, be mindful of the pointers discussed in this article. No one should be deprived of justice because of ignorance of the law or ignorance of his or her options and rights.