Interview Before Interrogating

Written By: Reid
Sep 01, 2012
Throughout our seminars and textbooks The Reid Technique emphasizes the distinction between interviewing and interrogating, and the importance of conducting a non-accusatory interview before an accusatory interrogation. A recent legal decision reinforces this lesson:

A food court cashier rang up a customer's purchases for several food items, but the customer did not have sufficient cash to pay for the purchase, so the cashier voided the transaction. The customer went to a service counter inside the store to pay the difference with a credit card and returned to the cashier, displayed his credit card receipt, and paid for the remaining items in cash. Surveillance cameras appeared to show the cashier accepting $31 in cash, but voiding out the sale.

Three days later the cashier was summoned to the manager's office and aggressively accused of stealing thirty-one dollars from the store (the amount of the voided transaction). The accusatory interrogation, involving three loss prevention staff who threatened the cashier with possible arrest, lasted for two hours before the emotionally distressed employee stomped out of the room. The cashier was suspended for three days for "acts of dishonesty."

When the cashier returned to work she was informed that further investigation cleared her of any wrong-doing, but by then the damage had been done. She sued her employer for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealings, slander, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Had it not been for a delayed filing in this case, the outcome could have resulted in substantial damages against the employer and/or investigators.

In Hollywood the typical police "interrogation" consists of asking the suspect two or three questions, catching the suspect in a known or presumed lie and going in for the kill by accusing the suspect of committing the crime. Especially when a suspect has been caught lying or in a web of circumstantial evidence it is tempting to get the quick confession by skipping the interview and moving directly into an interrogation. However, in almost all instances, an interrogation should be preceded by a non-accusatory interview. In addition to avoiding the situation in which an innocent person is interrogated, the following are other benefits of conducting a non-accusatory interview prior to any interrogation.

Develop Rapport

A suspect's impression of an investigator will be formed within 15 - 20 seconds of meeting the investigator. That initial reaction will, in turn, influence whether or not a rapport will be established between the investigator and the suspect. To persuade a suspect to tell the truth during an interrogation requires that the suspect trust the investigator and perceive the investigator as an objective, non-judgmental person.

This rapport cannot be developed in a relationship initiated by an accusation of guilt followed by a monologue in which the investigator dominates the conversation. In other words, rapport cannot be established during an interrogation. It can only be established during a non-accusatory interview during which the investigator is perceived as an objective, non-judgmental fact-finder and the suspect does most of the talking.
Develop Investigative Information

Because an interview is non-accusatory, a suspect is much more likely to reveal opportunity and access to commit the crime, a motive to commit the crime and even psychological propensity to engage in criminal behavior. However, once a suspect is accused of involvement in criminal activity, he perceives the relationship between himself and the investigator as adversarial. His defensive response will be to deny any information that may connect him to the crime under investigation. An investigator is much more likely to learn the truth from a suspect during an interrogation if the suspect has acknowledged opportunity, access, motive and propensity to commit the crime.

Furthermore, when accused of wrong-doing, the tendency to deny opportunity, access, motive and propensity occurs within both innocent and guilty suspects. Consequently, when a suspect lies about having a prior conviction during an interrogation, this represents a less significant indicator of guilt than when the suspect tells the same lie during a non-accusatory interview.

Another significant benefit of conducting an interview prior to an interrogation is that the suspect is allowed an opportunity to offer an explanation for incriminating evidence and to provide an alibi, if he has one. The investigator may have an opportunity, through a phone call or record check, to confirm or refute the information provided by the suspect. If the information does not check out, this will clearly offer the investigator valuable ammunition during the interrogation.

Develop Behavioral Information

Suspects are very good at identifying an investigator's level of confidence during an interrogation. Most suspects can tell if an investigator is bluffing about possessing evidence or speaking truthfully. Consequently, the investigator who is perceived by the suspect as confident in his position and statements is much more likely to walk out of the interrogation learning the truth. This is a significant reason why polygraph examiners have high confession rates - they have observed the suspect's "deceptive responses" on the polygraph charts. Similarly, investigators who have actual evidence of a suspect's guilt are often successful at learning the truth during an interrogation. The reason for this is that in both instances, the investigator conducts the interrogation with almost certainty of the suspect's guilt.

The asking of behavior-provoking questions during an interview can result in the same effect. When a suspect answers the majority of behavior-provoking questions in a manner typical of a deceptive individual, the investigator has increased confidence in the suspect's guilt during the interrogation.

Finally, an investigator may develop information about the suspect's background, such as a prior conviction, or that the day after the crime the suspect paid his landlord two months back rent in cash. Armed with this insight, the investigator can ask the suspect questions during the interview to which the answer is already known, e.g., "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?"; "Have you made any large cash payments in the last week?" An innocent person will typically tell the truth to these questions. However, if the suspect lies to those questions the investigator will have increased confidence in the suspect's probable guilt during a subsequent interrogation.

In conclusion, the interview is an integral part of the subsequent interrogation. It allows the investigator to establish rapport with the suspect. The suspect is much more likely to offer investigative information during the interview, and the investigator can develop behavioral information during the interview which will increase his confidence in the suspect's guilt later during the interrogation. Finally, the interview allows the suspect to offer explanations for apparent incriminating evidence or provide an alibi which can be verified (or refuted). The lawsuit mentioned at the beginning of this article could have been completely avoided had the investigators first interviewed the employee.
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