Quoting Statements in an Open Account: Truthful or Deceptive?

Written By: Reid
Sep 01, 2006

Quoting Statements in an Open Account: Truthful or Deceptive?

September- October

During most interviews the investigator should develop an open, or narrative account from the subject. It is called an open account because the investigator’s question encourages the subject to relate everything relative to the area of inquiry and once the subject starts talking, the investigator does not interrupt the account. Examples of questions that elicit an open account include, “Mary tell me exactly what happened to cause the cut on your hand.” or, “George, tell me everything you did last Friday from the time you got home from work until the time you went to bed.”

There are many aspects of an open account that can be analyzed to assess the credibility of the person making it: Does the account contain an introduction, main event and an epilogue or does it focus entirely on the main event? Is the account detailed or is it vague? Are the person’s recollections reasonable or selective? Does the logic of the account follow normal human behavior or does it describe behaviors that do not make sense? However, there is one aspect of an open account that has not been specifically researched and yet is very objective in its identification. This behavior is the inclusion of a quoted statement.

During our training seminars we present the case of a young women who claims to have been abducted at knife point from a parking lot. The following is a transcript of portions of her open account:

“He ended up on the right side of me and he said, ‘You’re taking me where I want to go’ and I said, ‘No I’m not’ and he said ‘Yes you are’ and he got in the car. (Later in the account) And then he said, ‘You’re not driving fast enough’ and he said, ‘pull over, I want to drive.’ When he got out of the car I was able to drive away.”

The italicized statements are each quotes of statements the victim decided to include in her open account. She certainly could have relayed what happened without including the quoted statements. Therefore, the inclusion of the quotes was purposeful on her part. For this reason the inclusion of quoted statements represents a potential behavior symptom to help detect truth or deception.

In this particular case the abduction account turned out to be fabricated to gain the attention of the woman’s boyfriend. However, a review of other video-taped open accounts reveals instances where verified truthful subjects have also included quoted statements within their narrative account. Consequently, we cannot offer a dogmatic guideline that the inclusion of quotes within a narrative account is indicative of deception. But we can develop a theoretical set of rules to evaluate this potentially valuable behavior symptom.

Before offering these guidelines, it is important that the investigator differentiates between quotes and summaries within an account. The statement, “He pulled my hair and called me a bitch” is not a quote. Rather, this subject is merely offering a summary of a conversation. On the other hand, the statement, “He pulled my hair and said, ‘You are a bitch and I’m going to kill you’” is a quote. The following guidelines only refer to true quotes that are included within a narrative account.

1. The inclusion of quoted statements in a narrative account should cause the investigator to be suspicious of the account. There is a strong tendency of truthful suspects to restrict their accounts to only information they know, for certain, is truthful. Even when recalling an incident that occurred six or twelve hours ago, most people would not accurately recall, word for word, exact statements made during the incident. When thinking back over the event, particular words or phrases may be accurately recalled but it would be unusual to recall an entire sentence. Applying this logic, the narrative statement, “He pointed a knife at me and said that he would kill me if I called the police” is more credible than the following statement: “He pointed a knife at me and I said, ‘What are you going to do?’ He then said, ‘I will kill you if you call the police.” (Notice that the first statement does not contain an actual quotation but rather summarizes the contents of a conversation.)

2. The inclusion of quoted dialogues is more typical of a fabricated account. A subject who is generating a fabricated account must create a credible story line to convince the listener that the event really happened. As the subject constructs the fictitious account the behavioral aspects of the story start to evolve -- What was done, when it was done, where it was done and what statements were made during the incident. Because the account is being spontaneously generated, the statements surface as an imagined dialogue. During our review of video-taped narrative statements, there was no instance of a verified truthful account that contained a quoted dialogue, e.g., “He said (quote) and then I said (quote)”

3. A quote that contains unique or emotional language is more likely truthful. A legitimate rape victim’s open account concluded with the following statement: “I was sitting on the ground and looked up at him. He pointed the gun at my head and said, ‘prepare to meet your maker.’ I just put my head down and cried.” It is reasonable that the victim would remember, word for word, this very emotional statement and, therefore, have the confidence to include it within her account as an exact quote. Similarly, if the quoted phrase represents an unusual or unique phrase, it is more likely that the person would accurately remember it and be comfortable including it within their response, e.g., “The guy rolled down his window and yelled, ‘You flat-landers don’t know how to drive’.”

This circumstance is quite different from quotes that are included in an open account simply to increase the credibility of the account. The following is an example of gratuitous quotes that are included in an account simply to help sell the subject’s version of events: “I told him, ‘If you don’t leave right now I’m calling the police,’ but he continued to walk toward me and I knew what was going to happen. I then said, ‘Please don’t hurt me’.”

4. Qualified quotes should not be interpreted as either truthful or deceptive. The following is an example of a qualified quote: “The man walked right up to me and said something like, ‘give me your money’, or, ’I want your money’.” The qualifying phrase “something like” may indicate that this is a truthful subject who is trying hard to be accurate in his account.

Conversely, a subject who is generating a fictitious account may experience anxiety after including a fabricated quote within the account and, in an effort to reduce this anxiety, qualify the quotation after making it. The following is an example of a deceptive suspect who felt the need to qualify a fabricated quote: “He asked me for the money and I told him that I could get it by Saturday. He got angry and said, ‘I want that money now’, or, ‘I need that money now.’ I can’t remember exactly what he said but that’s when I knew I had to get money somehow.” Under this circumstance, the qualified phrase, “I can’t remember what he said” almost serves as a retraction that the words were ever said at all.

In summary, the inclusion of a quoted statement within an open account may be a valuable behavior symptom that will either support or refute the truthfulness of the account. The guidelines offered in this web tip are based on a general review of open accounts which have been verified as either truthful or deceptive. They are not the result of a controlled study. Investigators are welcome to contact me (BJayne@Reid.com) to relay their own observations or experiences with interpreting quotations contained within an open account.

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