Going Directly from an Interview Into an Interrogation

Written By: Reid
Jul 01, 2002
In the Reid Technique a clear distinction is made between interviewing and interrogation. The interview is non-accusatory, question and answer process that is designed to elicit information. An interrogation is accusatory in nature and is designed to elicit the truth from someone whom the investigator believes has lied. Furthermore, the two procedures are generally separated in time. At the completion of the interview the investigator steps out of the room and returns in five or ten minutes to start the interrogation. The pretense for stepping out of the room may be to review notes, talk to another investigator or to make a quick phone call.

There are several benefits for creating a brief separation of time between the interview and interrogation. This pause allows the investigator time to formulate an interrogation strategy, e.g., what confrontation statement to make, what themes and alternative question to use. By separating the interview from the interrogation it is easier for the investigator to go from the non-accusatory and fact-finding tone of the interview to the accusatory and persuasive tone of the interrogation. Finally, the investigator can use his absence from the interview room as a pretense to strengthen the confrontation of the suspect at the outset of the interrogation. A possible ploy might be something like, "Jim, I just got off the phone with the crime lab and they were able to match hair follicles from the bedroom. In this folder are the results of our entire investigation and there is no doubt that you are the person who took this girl from her bedroom."

There are situations where an investigator may go directly from an interview into an interrogation without any time period separating the two procedures. The first involves an environment in which it is impractical for the investigator to leave the suspect alone after completing the interview. Consider a college student who was interviewed in his dorm room about a date rape. The investigator knows that the student came from a privileged family and also knows that he had a single dorm room. Even though the student was not taken into custody (thus, no Miranda warnings were required) there was a concern that had a formal interview been scheduled at the university police station the student's father would have arranged for an attorney to be present during the interview. Furthermore, being in a single dorm room allowed privacy for the interview and interrogation. However, the interview environment does not lend itself to a plausible reason for the investigator to step out of the room following the interview and return ten minutes later to initiate the interrogation.

Under circumstances of this nature the investigator should complete the interview and immediately confront the suspect. However, the standard confrontation statement should be somewhat modified. A possible statement for the previously mentioned date rape is, "Tom, we have been investigating this incident since it was reported and I have asked you a number of questions that I already knew the answers to. After talking to you and reviewing all of the evidence, there is no question that you did force (victim) into having sex with you." Unlike a standard confrontation statement, which is made while standing, when circumstances require that the investigator go directly from an interview to an interrogation the investigator would remain seated.

A second circumstance where the investigator may go directly from an interview to an interrogation occurs when the suspect exhibits a clear indication of wanting to confess during the interview. Often this will occur early during an interview where, for example, the suspect becomes confused when relaying his alibi or perhaps when he is asked a question such as "Did you (fire that gun)?" and the suspect puts his head down and simply shakes his head implying a denial. If it were decided to initiate an interrogation at this point, rather than directly accuse the suspect of involvement in the offense, the investigator would immediately develop a theme. In the latter example, the investigator may state:
"You know Tom, in cases like this the important thing to establish is why someone did something. Once we get the paraffin test back we'll be able to determine if you fired a gun in the last 48 hours. But that test won't tell us what the circumstances were. I know you were drinking that night and alcohol tends to cloud a person's judgment in that they will do things when they are drinking that they never do otherwise. I can tell from looking at you that you are sorry about doing this but I don't know the circumstances behind what happened (continue with theme)."
Interrogating a suspect prior to completing an interview should be reserved for suspects who clearly exhibit symptoms, not only of deception, but also of wanting to confess. Once the interrogation is initiated the investigator should not return to the question and answer format of the interview. In other words, the decision to initiate an interrogation at some point during an interview is a permanent one. Once the investigator engages in an interrogation, even if for only a few minutes, and then attempts to return to the interviewing format, the subject is unlikely to offer any meaningful information during the remainder of the interview and the success of a subsequent interrogation is severely diminished.

Furthermore, there are clear risks involved in a premature interrogation. By cutting the interview short, the investigator loses potential insight into the suspect's crime that may be provided during a full interview. The abbreviated interview also may inhibit the investigator's ability to establish the level of rapport needed to persuade someone to tell the truth. Finally, the investigator loses the procedural advantages of separating the interview from the interrogation. These are each significant factors contributing to the success of an interrogation and the investigator should carefully weigh them before deciding to terminate the interview and engage in an immediate interrogation of a suspect.

Permission is hereby granted to those who wish to share or copy this article. In those instances, the following Credit Statement must be included "This Investigator Tip was developed by John E. Reid and Associates Inc. 800-255-5747 / www.reid.com." Inquiries regarding Investigator Tips should be directed to Toni Overman toverman@reid.com.