Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Evidence, Murder, Police and Prosecutors, Soering, True Crime

A Correction Re: Söring’s Lawyer’s Phone Call

I’d like to thank the Wikipedia editor Elefantikus — during an exchange on the German Jens Söring Wikipedia page, he pointed out a part of the trial testimony that seems to contradict the meaning of one of the Söring custody log entries I have mentioned in my writing on the case.

The entry in question was made at 5:28 pm on 5 June 5 1986, while Söring was being questioned about his involvement in the Haysom murders. It reads:

“Returned to Charge Room no untoward incidents took place. Whilst at interview spoke to Keith Barker at 4.30pm solicitor.” This entry seems to state that it was Söring who spoke to the solicitor Keith Barker — if it had been someone else, then the police officer who wrote the entry down (I can’t decipher his name) should have noted that.

Yet it turns out that the anonymous custody officer made a mistake — he didn’t note down that Barker actually talked to Detective Sergeant Kenneth Beever, not Söring. Beever informed Barker that Söring had already signed a waiver of his right to talk to his lawyer and was voluntarily answering questions. Beever testified to this during the suppression hearing in Söring’s case, which took place in March 1990. Recall that the purpose of this hearing, which was held outside the presence of the jury, long before trial, was to determine whether Söring’s confessions could be entered into evidence at his future trial.

In the hearing transcript for March 3, 1990, pp. 154-55, Beever testifies as follows, under cross-examination from one of Söring’s lawyers:

Q Would you turn to page 2 of the custody sheet?

A Yes. sir.

Q I call your attention to the entry at 5:28 p.m.

A Yes.

Q Did you cause that entry to be made?

A Yes, I did, sir.

Q Did you speak to Keith Barker at 4:30 p.m.?

A Yes, sir, I did.

Q On the 5th of June?

A Yes. sir, I did.

Q During the middle of Mr. Soerlng’s interview?

A Yes, sir, I did.

Q Did you tell Mr. Barker at that time that Mr. Soering had not waived his Miranda warnings, had not waived his right to an attorney?

A No, sir, I didn’t say that. I didn’t discuss that with Mr. Barker at ail.

Q Did you discuss Mr. Soering’s presence in the station with Mr. Barker at that time?

A Yes, In loose terms, yes, sir, yes.

Q And Mr. Barker asked to speak to his client, didn’t he?

A No, sir.

Elsewhere, Beever testified that he specifically ordered the custody officer to make this entry as an “aid [sic] memoire”, so there would be a written notice that Beever had spoken to Jens Söring’s lawyer, since any contact between a lawyer for a suspect and an officer should be noted down. The custody officer complied with Beever’s order, but didn’t mention who, specifically, spoke to Keith Barker. I cited the entry about the phone call as evidence that Söring was not denied access to his lawyer during his interrogation. I may reach out and ask for corrections in the pieces I’ve published, but for now, I think this blog should be enough to set things straight.

In any event, the misleading log entry doesn’t change the facts: At 12:50 pm on 5 June 1986, Söring signed a form stating that he did not wish to consult his solicitor before talking to the police. He did so despite the fact that Keith Barker, earlier that same day, had explicitly counseled Söring not to speak to the police outside Barker’s presence (advice that Elizabeth Haysom largely heeded, see below).

We know this because Barker submitted an affidavit to Söring’s legal team in 1995 as part of Söring’s appeals of his conviction. In that affidavit, Barker stated: “After the initial magistrate’s hearing I recollect that I went to the cells where my clients were held before they were taken away and I said to them both of then that they were to answer no questions without me being present.”

Barker goes on: “My file indicates that after returning to my office I drafted a letter which was hand delivered to Richmond Police Station to which Mr Soering had been taken. In this letter I requested that I be present when either of my clients were interviewed and I believe I also telephoned and spoke to the then chief Superintendent and I asked to be present when he was interviewed and I believe that I was told that Mr. Soering had signed the custody record as not wantinq a solicitor present.” Interestingly, Elizabeth Haysom made a different choice: “I was in the police station when I was present on 6th June and 7th June for interviews with Miss Haysom.”

So even without the custody log entry, the facts remain clear: Jens Söring freely chose to speak to police without his lawyer present. The police accurately informed Keith Barker that this was the case. Now the question is whether it’s important that Keith Barker wanted to be present when Söring was questioned. The answer, legally, is no. In the 1985 case of Moran v. Burbine, the US Supreme Court held that if a suspect has knowingly waived their right to the presence of a lawyer and decided to speak to police, then police don’t have to inform him that his lawyer has telephoned the police station and requested to speak to the suspect. The right to have a lawyer present is the suspect’s right, not the lawyer’s right. As long as the suspect has been informed of his rights and understands them, he is free to waive them, as Söring did. This is why all of Söring’s confessions were admissible.

This also helps us understand a clever tactic Söring uses whenever he is speaking to someone who doesn’t understand the facts of his case. He always carefully says things like “They didn’t let me talk to my lawyer” or “I never got to speak to my lawyer.” Söring never mentions that he himself declared in writing that he didn’t want his lawyer present. But he most certainly did, as he was forced to admit during the suppression hearing (2 March 1990, pp. 58-59):

Q And then again following the same procedure after that was done, you were asked [at 12:50 pm on 5 June 1986] whether you wanted a solicitor as soon as practicable or whether you wanted a solicitor at this time, weren’t you?

A Yes. I signed where It says, “I do not want a solicitor at this time.”

Q You did?

A Yes.

Q And you signed this indicating you did not want a solicitor at this time, right?

A At 12:50, yes.

So ultimately, the mistaken custody log entry changes nothing.



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