WSW: "The Best Account" Of What Happened

Apr 24, 2017

Credit Sehvilla Mann / WMUK

Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School Professor Tonya Krause-Phelan says police want to be able to use a defendant’s own words as evidence.


Krause-Phelan who is also Auxiliary Dean at the Cooley Law School previously worked as a defense attorney and a public defender. She joined WMUK to discuss last week’s ruling on whether statements made by accused mass shooter Jason Dalton can be submitted as evidence.

Krause-Phelan says a suspect that is willing to talk to police, can provide “the best account” of alleged criminal conduct. But she says defendants have to be read their “Miranda” rights, including the right to remain silent.

In this case, Krause-Phelan says Dalton stated that he did not want to talk to Kalamazoo Public Safety officers. She says there is a public safety exception when police believe that answers to questions are needed to protect the public from harm. But Krause-Phelan says if police are trying to get a confession, the questioning is different from questions about public safety. Last week Kalamazoo County Circuit Court Judge Alexander Lipsey ruled that parts of one interview would be suppressed, but not a second.

The defense can also use portions of police interviews as part of an insanity defense. Krause-Phelan says this can make a defense lawyer’s job tricky. While the attorney has to provide “zealous defense” of their client, challenging some answers to police questions can be risky. But Krause-Phelan says if a defense attorney finds something in suppressed statements that could help and insanity defense, they could make a motion to allow it in. But she says if a judge allows it, that opens the door for the prosecution to use those statements for their purposes as well.