Why aren't cops lawyers?
Do I have to appear as a witness to the police?
If you have witnessed a crime, the investigative authorities often have an interest in hearing you as a witness to the incident. Sometimes the police question people who may be considered as witnesses directly at the scene of the crime. In other cases you will receive a letter from the police asking you to appear at the police station to testify as a witness.
Until a change in the law in the summer of 2017, the rule was that you did not comply with the police summons, i.e. did not appear at the appointment and did not have to make a statement.
Since August 2017, as a summoned witness, you have been obliged to appear to the police and give evidence if the summons is based on an order from the public prosecutor. But for the witness it is usually not at all clear whether there is an order from the public prosecutor's office.
Anyone who is unsure whether they have to appear to the police and testify should always seek advice from a lawyer beforehand. This is because the police often summon people as witnesses who are actually suspected of having something to do with a crime. Correctly, you would then have to be summoned and instructed as a suspect.
If the police assure you that you are only a witness and not a suspect, this is a reason to be suspicious in case of doubt!
Because behind this there is no friendliness of the police officer. Rather, it is not uncommon for police officers to conceal an unlawful withholding of the accused's rights behind the relevant remarks. From a legal point of view, a statement made in this way in violation of instruction regulations may not be used. In practice, however, the prohibition of recycling is mostly ineffective, as the formal errors cannot be proven.
If you are summoned to a witness hearing by the police on behalf of the public prosecutor, directly by the public prosecutor or by a court, you are generally obliged to appear at the appointment. Otherwise there is a risk of a forced demonstration. A fine can also be imposed.
However, anyone who receives a judicial summons and intends to make use of a right to refuse to give evidence or information can inform the judge in advance (advisable through a lawyer). In practice, such an advance notification usually leads to the appointment being canceled and unloading.
As a witness, you must always tell the truth. You must not lie or hide anything important. However, if you would burden yourself by answering a question truthfully, you can make use of your right to refuse to provide information, i.e. you can remain silent on this question. You must still provide truthful information if you have any further questions.
Anyone who would have to incriminate a relative by giving evidence is entitled to refuse to testify. In particular, this includes fiancées, spouses and partners, parents, children and siblings of the accused. Even more distant relatives such as in-laws, nieces, nephews or even great-grandchildren do not have to make any statements. Step parents and step children are also entitled to refuse to testify, but not step siblings. Even after a divorce, family relationships and brotherhood remain in place. The interrogator must inform you about your right to refuse to testify before the interrogation.
There is also a right to refuse to testify for so-called professional confidentiality holders who, due to their profession, are obliged to maintain secrecy about the facts that have come to their knowledge. These include clergymen, defense attorneys, other lawyers, insolvency administrators, auditors, doctors, members of the federal or state parliament as well as radio and press employees.
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