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How the ‘alternative question’ can get a suspect’s real intent

The investigator should make a transition statement about some fact which raises doubt that the crime was spontaneous and then pose an ‘alternative question’ that presumes the act was deliberate

When the suspect has accepted the affirmative side of the ‘spur of the moment’ interrogation theme, how do we get his real intent? The answer is to transition into another ‘alternative question.’

Consider this scenario: Two cousins — Corey and Tim — went to a bar on a Friday evening to ”kick back.” While they were at the bar, they became engaged in a verbal confrontation with a customer named Sean.

After several minutes of going back and forth, the cousins decided to leave the bar — Sean had ruined their evening. Corey lived down the block from the bar. It was there he gave Tim his .22 rifle.

Eventually, Sean left the bar and drove past Corey’s house. Two shots rang out, one of which struck Sean in the neck and caused serious injury. Both cousins were interviewed, and the investigator believed Tim was the shooter. The interrogation proceeded as follows:

“Tim, the results of our investigation indicate that you shot Sean. Tim, I think you were at the wrong place at the wrong time with no intention of this thing happening that evening. You told me a little while ago (during the interview) that you and your cousin Corey had a little weed and some crack before you went to the bar. You guys were just chilling out.

“Then all of a sudden, this jerk Sean comes over to you guys and verbally begins pushing his weight around - making fun of you and begging for a fight. You wanted nothing to do with him, but he persisted. Instead of getting into it with him, you decided to leave the bar and go to your cousin’s house. While there, you got more pissed off about him ruining your evening and wanted to get even. Your cousin gave you the .22 rifle, then you saw Sean driving past and decided to take a shot, then another one. He got hit and you took off.

“Tim, if Sean didn’t get into it with you at the bar and if your cousin didn’t give you his rifle, you wouldn’t be here today — you know that’s the truth. I think you were at the wrong place at the wrong time, right? And had you not had the weed, crack, and brews that evening, I’m sure you wouldn’t have reacted out of emotion like you did.

“Tim, I think this was done more on the spur of the moment, right?”

The suspect nods his head in affirmative manner and responds, “Yes.”

The Alternative Question
If the investigator believes that the subject had actually planned out his actions and wants to have the subject acknowledge that fact, the investigator should make a transition statement about some fact which raises doubt that the crime was spontaneous. Immediately follow that suggestion with another alternative question that presumes the act was deliberate.

Continuing with the example described above, once Tim acknowledged committing the act, the investigator can offer a transition statement followed by a quick alternative question focused solely upon the issue of intent, such as:

“Tim, I appreciate you telling me this; but something strikes me as a little odd. If you just saw Sean driving by, it’s odd that you would have had that .22 ready to fire and in your hands to accurately draw down on a passing car on the spur of the moment.

“What the facts tell me is that you had an idea Sean would either drive home past your place or that he’d come looking for you. That tells me you gave it some thought in advance, and understandably you were ready. The question I have for you now is whether you intended to kill him or just to clip the guy so he’d leave you and Corey alone. There’s a big difference between the two.

“I don’t think you intended to kill him. I think you just intended to hurt him so he’d know to leave you and Corey alone. Which one are we talking about, Tim? Did you intend to kill him, or was it your intent just to hurt him so he’d leave you guys alone? I think it was just to hurt him so he’d leave you and Corey alone, right?”

Tim once again nods in the affirmative and responds, “Yeah, all I wanted to do was wing that punk and teach him a lesson so he’d leave me and Corey alone.”

We have now obtained specific intent — premeditation.

As this example illustrates, when the subject accepts the lesser side of the alternative question, and the investigator believes that the real intent or motive is more accurately reflected in the harsher side of the alternative question, once he has established the initial corroborating details of the subject’s admission, he should return to the interrogation. Then, he can offer an alternative question that contrasts what had been the harsh side of the alternative with something more serious: “Was your intent to try to kill him, or just to wing him?” or “Did you plan this out for weeks or was it just for a few hours?”

For more information on the possible themes that can be used for dozens of other types of criminal acts, visit

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