How to elicit information from a suspect during an interrogation

If you have the choice to question the subject alone or with a partner, consider going in alone

While many agencies require that a second investigator is in the room when a subject is interviewed or interrogated, if you have the choice to question the subject alone or with a partner, consider going in alone. A prime reason why you might want to interview or interrogate without a partner in the room is increasing your legally acceptable confession rate. The principle is simple – it is easier for a suspect to confess to one person as opposed to two or more. If the department policy is to have a second investigator in the room, that individual should act as a witness, sit behind and off to the side of the suspect and remain silent throughout the process.

All subjects should be interviewed prior to any interrogation even though there may be very strong evidence that indicates they committed the crime. The threefold purpose for the interview, in addition to determining truth or deception, is to:

1. Develop rapport with the suspect
2. Gain investigative information
3. Develop an interrogation strategy

 Develop rapport with the suspect
It is critical for the suspect to view the interrogator as being a non-judgmental, fair and reasonable individual. Start out by asking the suspect their name and what most people call them. When they respond, ask them if it’s OK if you call them by that name – this subtle starting point helps form the suspect’s initial positive impression of the investigator. Frequent use of their first name during the initial questions also strengthens this positive perception by the suspect.

Begin with non-threatening questions that have nothing to do with the issue under investigation, such as having the suspect identify themselves, talk about their job or engage in casual conversation. It is also recommended to take notes even though the session may be recorded; this helps acclimate the subject to the note taking process. The investigator should be seated directly in front of the suspect about four to five feet away with no physical barriers (i.e. a desk) between the two. This arrangement allows the suspect to observe the investigator’s open body posture and eye contact, further demonstrating the investigator’s non-judgmental attitude. Most suspects would rather confide in a person that treats them with respect and dignity – someone they trust. There certainly should be no accusatory statements or questions that carry a sarcastic tone of voice during the interview. You are having an information gathering conversation with the suspect about the issue under investigation.

Gain investigative information
During the interview it is important to develop information about the subject’s activities during the time period in question, their alibi, their relationship with the victim, their knowledge about the issue under investigation and other relevant facts. Once you have learned the subject’s story, including their alibi, you can then determine the credibility of this information in the event that the subject raises their alibi as a defense during the interrogation. It is also important to try to determine the suspect’s motive for committing the crime – greed, envy, revenge, anger or some other influencing factor. With this information the investigator can develop interrogation themes that can openly address the suspect’s motive for committing the crime, thereby enhancing the credibility of the interrogation process.

Develop an interrogation strategy
Information gleaned during the interview can give the investigator valuable insights for the development of an interrogation strategy. For example, did the subject offer any information as to what consequences they were most concerned about – whether it’s jail, loss of job, embarrassment, loss of social standing or having to make restitution? During the interview, ask the subject what they think should happen to the person who committed the crime. Oftentimes the subject’s response reveals their focus of concern, such as going to jail or job loss. The interrogator will have to openly address this concern during the interrogation.

If you ask the suspect whether he or she thinks the person that committed the crime deserves a second chance under any circumstances, and the suspect responds that the perpetrator should be given a second chance if it was their first offense, then your subject has just suggested that the interrogation theme should contrast a one-time offender with a repeat offender. 

The subject’s responses to other behavior provoking questions will give you insights for additional interrogation strategies. When you ask the subject why someone would commit such an act and the subject responds by saying they probably needed money, then you have just obtained the subject’s probable motive. When baiting the suspect about a possible witness by asking if there is any reason someone would say they saw the suspect in the parking lot the night of the attack and the subject responds in a very hesitant manner and is uncertain whether or not he or she was there that evening, then the subject has verbalized their concern that there may be additional evidence against them. The interview, therefore, is invaluable for gaining information to develop an interrogation strategy utilizing the answers to the behavior provoking questions.

A properly conducted investigative interview can provide the investigator with a wealth of information, including valuable insights that can be critically important in the development of an effective interrogation strategy. Not only will this process help to facilitate the case resolution by increasing the likelihood of a guilty person telling the truth about what they have done, but it will substantially reduce the amount of time needed to resolve an investigation.

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