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Interrogation Tactics Involving A Written Report January - Febuary 2015 (click here for printable version)

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The interrogation of a criminal suspect is designed to persuade a suspect, who is believed to be guilty of a crime, to tell the truth. To be effective, the investigator's persuasive arguments must resonate with the suspect; in other words, the suspect must find the investigator's statements to be credible.

While criminal suspects come from a wide variety of backgrounds and different levels of education and experience, most of them know that the investigator will eventually submit some form of written report concerning the investigation. This knowledge can be utilized to develop the credibility of persuasive arguments during an interrogation. Specifically, the potential content and inevitable submission of a written report serves as the basis for a variety of different interrogation tactics.

Transition Statement

An investigator is unlikely to learn the truth from a suspect if the perceived purpose for the interrogation is to elicit a confession. Therefore, the investigator must establish a purpose for the interrogation other than to obtain a confession. This is referred to as a transition statement. A common transition statement is to convince the suspect that people need to know why he committed the crime or the circumstances surrounding his commission of the crime. The following are transition statements that reference a written report:

1. "I would like to include in my report that this is the first time you've ever done something like this, and that this was out of character for you. But I can't put gut feelings in my report. I could be completely wrong. Maybe you have been doing things like this your whole life. I just don't know. That's why I came back in here to talk to you. I want my report to be accurate, and I believe that you want it to be accurate as well."

2. "Right now I have written 90% of my report. It indicates the preliminary findings from the crime scene as well as the analysis of evidence collected and our determination with respect to your involvement in this thing. The last paragraph is optional, and that would be an explanation as to why this thing happened. That's why I came back in here to talk to you -- To give you an opportunity for input into my report so that I can write that last paragraph."

Arguing Against Self Interest

Many suspects do not accept the investigator's initial transition statement. Rather, the suspect believes that the investigator needs a confession to prove guilt and, therefore, the last thing the suspect will do is to tell the truth. One tactic to address this attitude is to convince the suspect that the interrogation is not being conducted to benefit the investigator, i.e., to get a confession. This is called arguing against self-interests. The following is an example of this tactic using a written report.

"My report is going to be submitted with or without your explanation. This thing doesn't affect me at all. If you want me to write my report now based on what I know, that's fine. The report will indicate that all of the information and evidence indicates that you did this. The report will also indicate that you were given a chance to clarify your side of the story, and you refused to explain why this thing happened. If you want me to send out the report without any explanation from you, that's exactly what I'll do. Joe, I didn't come back to this room for any reason other than to give you an opportunity to explain why this thing happened."

Challenging the Suspect's Credibility

Another tactic to address the suspect who believes that the investigator needs a confession is to make statements designed to increase the investigator's confidence in the suspect's guilt. While this often involves reference to real or fictitious evidence, another approach is to challenge the suspect's credibility:

"Joe, whether or not you want to get this matter resolved is completely up to you. If you leave here without getting it resolved I'll simply turn in my report as it stands right now and let my superiors make a decision based on what I've developed. Joe, you are welcome to submit your own report indicating that you had nothing to do with this and that you don't know anything about it. But Joe, whose report do you think they're going to believe - yours or mine?"

Role Reversal

At some point during almost every interrogation the guilty suspect psychologically withdraws. The suspect is no longer listening to the investigator, and his mind is focused on consequences. This is a very effective defense mechanism to keep from confessing, and the investigator must somehow recapture the suspect's attention and interest. To do this the investigator typically moves his chair closer to the suspect and asks the suspect hypothetical questions. A variation of this tactic is called "role reversal," where the suspect is placed in the position of choosing between two hypothetical scenarios. The following is an example of this tactic using a written report as the scenario:

"Joe, let's say that you were the president of a company here in Chicago. You've got 50 employees working for you but you have two employees who were caught stealing. They both stole $2,000 from you, both were caught on video--there's no doubt they did it. So your loss prevention investigator puts together a written report on his findings.

You're reading through this report and learn that the first employee had a wife who lost her job and a seven-year-old who was just diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. This guy's barely scraping by every month and they're threatening to evict him and his family from their apartment. That's why he took the money. He really needed it.

Now you read about the second employee who also took money. When he was asked why he took the money he kept denying that he took it until they showed him the video. Even after acknowledging taking the money, he never offered any reason for taking it. Joe, after reading these reports which employee would you be more likely to sit down with and talk to?"

After the suspect responds, "The first one." The investigator would continue, "Joe, you know I'm going to submit a report after this interview and someone is going to make a decision about your future based on that report. Don't you think the report should offer some explanation as to why you did this?"

Handling Bargaining Statements

Before a guilty suspect decides to finally tell the truth during an interrogation it is not unusual for the suspect to try to reduce the consequences he faces for committing the crime. This effort is termed a bargaining statement. Examples of bargaining statements would be, "What would happen to me if I told you I did this?" or, "What sort of deal can you make me if I tell you what happened?" The following is a response to a bargaining statement that references the written report:

Q: "I'll tell you what happened if you can guarantee that I will not go to prison."

A: "Joe, I'm not an attorney or judge. I can't offer you any promises or guarantees. My job is to collect and analyze information and evidence. Once I do that I submit a report with my findings. I would like to include in my report your explanation as to why this happened. But I'm turning my report in with or without any explanation from you."

Alternative Question

If the guilty suspect has related to the investigator's persuasive arguments during the interrogation, he may mentally debate whether or not to tell the truth. When the investigator senses the suspect is in this state of mind, the investigator will ask an alternative question in an effort to elicit the first admission of guilt. In essence, the suspect is offered two choices concerning some aspect of his crime -- accepting either choice represents an admission of guilt. The following are examples of an alternative question built around the written report:

1. "I'm sure you want my report to be accurate, but I can't write a complete and accurate report without knowing whose idea this was. Were you the person who came up with the idea of going into that house, or were you just going along with your friends? I want to make sure my report is accurate. It wasn't your idea, was it?"

2. "How do you want my report to read, that this is something where you needed the money for something important, or that you blew the money on booze and drugs? Do you want people to guess why you did this? I don't think so. You want to be treated fairly in this matter, don't you? Let's make sure that my report is accurate. You needed that money for something important, didn't you?"

Introducing the Written Statement

The final step of an interrogation is to document the suspect's corroborated confession. Even though the interrogation and confession was video-taped, many agencies also want a written confession as a back-up. Suspects do not like to incriminate themselves, let alone write or sign a written confession. An effective way to introduce the written confession is to describe it as a supplement to the investigator's written report:

"Joe, as I'm sure you are aware, I will be submitting a report on this matter and I always offer the people I work with the opportunity to attach a supplement to my report indicating their explanation for what happened. Would you like to include a supplement to my report?"

Conclusion

An interrogation, whether it lasts 30 minutes or 3 hours, consists of a series of persuasive statements designed to convince a suspect, believed to be guilty of a crime, to tell the truth. The effectiveness of these persuasive statements will depend on how credible the suspect perceives the investigator to be. This is why investigators who are able to produce actual evidence of the suspect's guilt during an interrogation almost always walk out of the room with a confession. The suspect knows that the investigator is credible.

In many interrogations, however, the investigator cannot bolster his credibility with irrefutable evidence of the suspect's guilt. Under this circumstance, the investigator's statements (and demeanor) must appear to be credible to the suspect. Because the suspect accepts the fact that the investigator will submit a report, it is beneficial to incorporate the investigator's written report when developing persuasive statements during an interrogation.


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