So today is (allegedly, we’ll get to that) the one-year anniversary of the disappearance of four-year-old Codi Bigsby from his father’s home in Virginia. No charges have been filed in the case, but the police zeroed in on Codi’s dad, Cory, as a suspect very quickly and he is still a suspect. They have said they think Codi disappeared earlier than his dad claimed, although I haven’t seen anything about when he was last seen by anyone outside the household. (Which consisted of Codi, Cory, and three of Cory’s other children.)
When writing up the case I was kind of appalled to see how Cory was treated during his first police interview after he reported his son missing. I was just facepalming.
Now, in my opinion Cory is not a person easy to sympathize with. He was previously arrested for domestic violence against Codi’s mom, and he admits he left his kids (the oldest of whom was only five) home alone for hours at a time because they were “a handful.” But without a doubt, his Constitutional rights were violated in that police interview and that matters.
The interview lasted between 9:30 p.m. and 4:45 a.m. That’s over seven hours, during which Cory was not, technically, under arrest. (On February 3 he was arrested, but not for anything to do with Codi’s disappearance. He was arrested for child neglect for leaving the kids home alone.) During this time, on more than TWENTY occasions Cory said he was tired and wanted to go home to sleep. The police told him “going home is not an option.”
This was a lie: Cory was in fact legally free to stop the interview and go home. But after the very first time he said he wanted to leave and the cops refused to let him go, he was basically under duress and there’s a good chance anything he said would not be permitted to be used in court.
The law asks: would a reasonable person feel like they were being detained and were not permitted to leave? And in that situation, of repeatedly asking to leave and being told it’s “not an option”, I think a reasonable person would definitely feel that way. (This, incidentally, is why those “how to handle a law enforcement encounter” advice people say you should directly ask the police if you are being detained.) A statement has to be “free and voluntary” to be used in court and by this point Cory wasn’t there voluntarily anymore.
Furthermore, TWICE Cory said he wanted to see an attorney, and TWICE his request was ignored. Big no-no. Once a suspect invokes their right to counsel, the police are supposed to immediately stop the interview and not ask any more questions of the suspect until the requested attorney arrives on scene.
Now, a lot of you may be thinking “I don’t care about this person’s so-called rights, I don’t care how they were treated, they’re a child neglecter/abuser and possible murderer.” But you should care. Not only because what happened to Cory could easily happen to you, but also because this botched interrogation may (assuming his father killed him, which the police seem to think he did) prevent Codi from ever getting justice.
The law says if a suspect invokes their right to counsel and isn’t given counsel, everything they say after that cannot be used in court. The suspect could confess to the most vile criminal offenses, to being a serial killer even, and their words would not be allowed to be used against them. I have no idea what Cory told the police during his interview, but if he admitted to anything incriminating after he was refused an attorney, those admissions cannot be used against him.
These are not obscure procedural rules. This is Police Interrogation 101. I can’t even with the incompetence here.
The police have since admitted they Did A Bad, and the detective who botched the interview was “punished”… by being pulled off the case and placed on paid administrative leave. So they were punished for their terrible policing by being given a paid vacation from work.
It’s been a year and no one knows where Codi is. I hope this interrogation did not reduce our chances of finding out what happened to him.
This article talks about what went wrong in the interview; it’s a good one.