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Truth be told: The key element in eliciting the truth from criminals

Unlocking the power of simplicity in criminal interrogations

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There are many approaches to persuade an individual to legally acknowledge that they committed the crime(s) under investigation. But do you want to know the most successful approach?

The answer is, keep it simple. Tell the truth to the offender as to why they committed the crime(s).

Before any interrogation, the investigator should conduct a non-accusatory, non-confrontational interview, during which the investigator should be a neutral, objective and non-judgmental fact finder. This allows the investigator to establish rapport with the subject and can change the suspect’s perception of the investigator from being negative to a more positive disposition. This interview process allows the investigator to develop the suspect’s alibi, relationship with the victim and activities during the period in question. This may also offer insights into the possible motives and possible accomplices.

An essential element of the persuasion process is to openly address the suspect’s justification and rationalization for committing the crime. Most investigators understand that individuals committing crimes have rationalized their behavior.

During the interrogation, we always need to treat the subject with decency and respect, the way that we would want to be treated. Adhering to the following guidelines will greatly assist the investigator in developing a valid and legally acceptable confession. Once the subject acknowledges the crime, detailed information is obtained that only the guilty suspect knows, such as the location of the murder weapon, location of the stolen property, the denomination of the stolen money, the identity of accomplices, how the victim was chosen, etc.

It is important to inform the subject that you do not condone their behavior but that you certainly understand the extenuating motives that caused their “misstep.” This basic bonding or validation process is very effective. Remember that your nonverbal behavior while presenting these themes should be leaning forward with an open body posture. This shows sincerity validating the themes being developed. Most criminal suspects certainly don’t possess a Harvard MBA, but most have developed a Ph.D. in “street smarts,” reading the sincerity and believability of the investigator.

Consider examples of these truth-telling approaches by simply validating the suspect’s rationalizations:

  • The employee who steals from their employer often justifies their larceny by developing the perception that, “The boss is rich, I’m underpaid, overworked, underappreciated and am being cheated. The employer can afford the loss, they owe me.”
  • The child sex offender rationalizes their behavior by convincing themselves that, “She looked much older, I was simply providing love, affection, attention and education. I had a few drinks, she came to me, the parents should have shown her more interest in her.”
  • In many rape cases, the subject blames the victim for “Dressing provocatively, acting in a suggestive manner, drinking heavily and voluntarily coming to my residence.”
  • In an arson, the subject may have justified their behavior by thinking, “I needed the insurance money, no one got hurt, the property was an eyesore, foreign competition is killing me. Depending on where the fire was set, blaming the victim for cheating or mistreating the suspect.”
  • In a burglary case, subjects rationalize by concluding, “They have a lot of money, a nice house, no burglar alarm, no one got hurt, I couldn’t get a decent job, I needed to provide for my family, etc.”
  • In a snatch and grab, subjects will compliment themselves for not breaking into the house and argue, “the victim should not have left packages out on the porch, they will be reimbursed, it was only one time at that house, it was only worth a few hundred dollars not thousands, having a hard time in this economy, etc.”
  • In an auto theft, subjects will say, “They left the car running, the key fob was left in car, they have insurance, I didn’t use the car in a crime, there were no kids in the car, they didn’t have a security alarm.”
  • In a homicide, subjects will say, “The victim’s actions toward me were threatening, my anger took over, revenge for the way the victim had previously treated me, envy of their position, she cheated on me, they didn’t listen to my demands and had it coming.”

Case study

Near me in Chicago, drug dealers are approaching homeless individuals and giving them 10 bags of various drugs, (cocaine, fentanyl, meth, heroin and PCP) to sell for $100 each. They are then told that if they sell eight in a week, they can have the remaining two to sell or keep for themselves. A great many homeless take the lucrative offer.

So, how would we approach this novice drug dealer during the persuasion process? Perhaps something along the following manner:

“Jack, we know that you were selling $100 bags of meth. We also know that you are not the manufacturer or main supplier. If you were, you certainly wouldn’t be living on the street under this viaduct, right? We know that you’re not a bad guy but simply doing a bad thing to survive here in Chicago. We know that you want to provide for your girlfriend in whatever way you can. That speaks volumes for you. Most importantly, we know that you’re not selling to kids and that your customers are coming to you, knowing that you have the ‘stuff.’

“Look, you were offered an unbelievable deal to sell eight bags and you get to keep two to sell or use for yourself. It’s not a bad deal for sure. In life we all have to take care of ourselves and loved ones, right? Like I said, you’re not a bad guy but simply made a bad decision that you thought was the best for you, right? Jack, don’t let this one misstep define your life.

“You were being used. The buyers didn’t have to buy the meth either. Look, they came to you, you didn’t go to them. You didn’t manufacture the stuff. You also didn’t sell kilos, right? You were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time when that guy approached you, right?

“Let me ask you, Jack, have you been doing this for weeks, months or years? It hasn’t been years, has it?”

Once you have an admission to the length of times selling drugs, immediately obtain details. Such as: How many guys have you sold these packs to? When was the first time, the last time? What names do these guys go by?” Obtain as much detail as possible.

The truth be told works.

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