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Protecting the rights of accused people
Coercion in police custody
All people who are held in custody are in a situation of vulnerability. They are isolated, and may have no contact with their friends, families or employers for days, while they are dependent on police for access to food, medicine and sanitation.
Coercion and violence during and following arrest is a problem around the world. Many information-gathering officials still use coercive or deceptive interrogation techniques aimed at obtaining information or confessions, despite evidence that these techniques lead to false or incomplete testimonies and miscarriages of justice.
The Méndez Principles
In 2021, a group of experts, which included Fair Trials’ Rebecca Shaeffer and Verónica Hinestroza, led by Juan Méndez published the Principles on Effective Interviewing for Investigations and Information Gathering, known as the Méndez Principles.
The Principles outline the legal and procedural safeguards that need to be in place during an investigation. They also provide guidance on how officials can gather evidence without using coercion or resort to questionable practices such as deception to extract incriminating statements. They are designed to be used by law enforcement, intelligence agencies, prosecutors, judicial authorities and defense lawyers, and are relevant for interviews with witnesses and victims as well as suspects.
Access to lawyers
Everyone should have access to a lawyer as soon as possible after they are arrested and before they are questioned by the police. Among other things, lawyers can prevent, detect and challenge abuses by the interviewers but in reality arrested people are almost never able to access counsel until, at the earliest, their first court hearing. Fair Trials is campaigning for people who have been arrested to have access to a lawyer before they are interrogated by the police.
Find out more about our campaign on access to counsel.
Youth interrogation in the US
Young people who are suspected of crimes in the US can be subjected to coercive and deceptive interrogation techniques. These troubling practices are the norm in many jurisdictions today, despite studies showing that youth are uniquely susceptible to – and often suffer greater harm as a result of – these tactics. Fair Trials and Fair and Just Prosecution co-hosted a webinar where national and international criminal justice experts and leaders to discuss long overdue reforms needed to ensure adequate protections for, and fair treatment of, young people throughout the interrogation process. The webinar included moving testimony from exoneree Terrill Swift who spent over 15 years incarcerated in prison for a crime he did not commit. Watch the webinar and read FJP’s white paper, Youth Interrogation: Key Principles and Policy Recommendations, which includes important national standards and best practices for law enforcement, prosecutors, and policymakers to safeguard the rights of young people during questioning.
Decarceration Nation podcast: Listen to Rebecca Shaeffer explain why access to counsel in police stations could transform the criminal legal system in the US.
Watch Verónica Hinestroza discuss the added value of the Mendez Principles to criminal procedures, with the International Commission of Jurists ( Spanish)
Watch the international launch of the Mendez Principles, featuring the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, and experts of the Steering Committee.