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How the 1–10 rating scale can uncover the truth during investigative interviews

If investigators learn about a suspect’s possible motive, they can then develop an appropriate interrogation theme


Pictured is an interview room at police headquarters in Dallas, Texas, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2009.

AP Photo/LM Otero

The 1 to 10 rating scale question can be utilized in most criminal investigations when questioning a suspect.

During the non-accusatory investigative interview, when appropriate, the investigator should ask the suspect to rate the victim on a scale of 1–10, with 10 being perfect. Once the suspect answers the question and offers a number, the investigator should ask them why they chose that number.

Valuable information can be learned when the subject explains the basis for their choice. For example, the investigator may learn about the suspect’s possible motive, and can then develop the appropriate interrogation theme, which can prove to be instrumental in obtaining the truth.

Consider the following case example:

Steve brought his 14-year-old son Noah to the emergency room with an eye injury. Noah had a blood-soaked towel covering his eye. Steve informed the emergency room staff that Noah ran into a tree when the two were playing catch with a football. A CT scan and x-rays determined that Noah had a fractured eye socket. No other injuries to his body were observed creating serious doubts he had run into a tree at full speed.

Upon questioning by the hospital staff, Noah reluctantly admitted his father punched him in the eye. Noah said his dad is a strict disciplinarian and became upset because he wasn’t taking the football practice seriously. When questioned, Steve denied striking him, maintaining that his son ran into a tree.

During Steve’s non-accusatory investigative interview, he continued to deny he struck Noah. He remained steadfast in his story of throwing an errant football pass that caused his son to run into the tree. During this interview, Steve was asked to rate his son on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being a perfect son. Steve thought a moment and stated, “No kid is perfect, and I would say a 7 or 8.”

When the investigator asked Steve why a 7 or 8, Steve replied, “Do you hear the wheezing when I breathe? Well I have emphysema from smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. It’s incurable and yet I still smoke. I know it’s stupid, but I’m addicted and can’t stop. I keep preaching to my son Noah not to smoke and wind up like me. Not too long ago he started hanging out with a 16-year old punk who smokes and is a bad influence. Anyway, I found a pack of cigarettes in Noah’s backpack and he initially told me they were his friend’s. I believed him. A few days later I found another pack and he then admitted they were his! That’s why I would rate him a 7 or 8, because of smoking and lying to me.”

Based on the non-accusatory interview, case facts, statement inconsistencies and the case evidence, it was the investigator’s assessment that Steve was not being truthful.

Take advantage of suspects’ rationalization of behavior

In preparing for the interrogation the investigator considered the rating that Steve had given his son as a valuable insight into his possible motive for striking him. Every offender rationalizes his/her behavior. It is very effective when during the interrogation the investigator can present to the suspect his/her own rationalization that they have used to justify their actions.

Most adults who physically abuse their children do not see themselves as abusers – they see themselves as someone who is trying to help their child – acting as strict disciplinarians trying to correct a problem. They further justify their conduct by blaming all the stress that they are under or their emotions for causing them to overreact or act out of character.

Following the non-accusatory investigative interview, and during the elicitation phase, the following is part of the investigator monologue to Steve:

“Steve, you, Noah and I know you caused his eye injury. However, let me say that I think your intentions were in Noah’s best interest and you simply overreacted. You know he is only 14 and beginning to smoke at that age could certainly result in him becoming addicted to cigarettes. You especially, know the probable outcome, emphysema or a multitude of other health issues. As a parent, in your eyes you were acting in good faith to correct this problem. We as parents can’t control who our kids hang out with and apparently his buddy is a bad influence. So, I don’t think you caused the injury out of meanness, but rather out of tough love. I don’t condone what you did but I can understand, being a parent myself.

“Here is the problem. You told me you want to correct this smoking issue and leave a legacy of a healthy and great son, right? Well, think what you are teaching your son. You may have corrected the smoking issue, but what lessons are you passing on to Noah? By denying to all of us, including your son, that you caused his eye injury, what are you teaching him? You know that what you are passing on to him is the message to not accept accountability or responsibility for your actions. Is that the lesson you want to teach your son? I really don’t think so.

“Think about it, you’re a good dad wanting to teach your son to do what’s right. As his father, lead by example, give him a life’s lesson that he will never forget. You owe it to him and yourself, right? Teach him firsthand how you are willing to be accountable, accepting responsibility for causing his injury. Tell the truth. Steve, you just overreacted trying to correct a problem, right?”

Use rating question with most offenders

The benefit of the rating question is obvious. It can be utilized with almost all offenders. As an example, an individual in a community is committing burglaries. During the interview the investigator asks the suspect to rate his community on a scale of 1 to 10: the suspect says 6. When the suspect was asked why a 6, he stated there are no decent jobs around, thereby suggesting a probable motive for his behavior and possible theme for the interrogation.

In another case a janitor was suspected of setting fire to the high school where he worked. When asked, he rated the school a 5. When asked why he chose a 5, he explained they had recently cut back his hours, thereby suggesting a possible motive and interrogation theme.

Determine the motive

Determining the true motive to a crime is critical in obtaining the truth. A common failure by investigators in attempting to elicit the truth from offenders is to just ask them why he/she committed the crime, without giving them any opportunity to save face. The best way to obtain the truth is to understand the true reason behind the incident and present that to the suspect in a morally acceptable manner. The benefit of asking the subject the 1 to 10 rating question is that their answer often gives us insight into their possible motive, which allows us to develop the appropriate interrogation theme.

Louis C. Senese is VP of John E. Reid and Associates and has been employed for over 40 years. He’s conducted thousands of interrogations and volunteered assistance in cold cases. Listen to Lou interviewed on, podcast #4. He is the author of “Anatomy of Interrogation Themes” and has presented hundreds of specialized training programs to federal, state and local law enforcement, military, federal and NATO intelligence agencies. He has taught throughout the U.S., as well as in Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea and the U.A.E. Contact him at