The Importance of the Transition Statement in an Interrogation

Written By: Reid
Nov 01, 2002

The purpose for conducting an interrogation is to legally persuade a suspect to tell the truth about his believed involvement in a crime. Very little persuasion, of course, is required in those rare cases where the investigator has developed clear evidence of the suspect's guilt. Under that circumstance once the evidence is revealed, most suspects will readily confess. Therefore, most interrogations are conducted when there is insufficient evidence to prove a suspect's guilt.

Procedurally, the interrogation starts with a direct positive confrontation such as, "Jim, I have in this folder the results of our entire investigation and there is no doubt that you (did commit the crime)." Upon hearing this, the suspect must logically ask himself, eif you have proof of my guilt, why do you need to talk to me further?' If the investigator does not present a plausible reason for the interrogation the suspect will soon recognize that the investigator needs a confession to prove his guilt. Therefore, the investigator must establish a pretense for conducting the interrogation other than to elicit a confession. This is called making a transition statement (the transition from the direct confrontation to the interrogation theme). There are generally four approaches to a transition statement:

Find something about the suspect to compliment

, "Joe the reason I wanted to talk to you about this is that you strike me as a decent, honorable person. I know that you are well respected by your family and friends. When I meet someone like that I feel they deserve an opportunity for input in my report before I turn it in." [Start theme]

John Reid taught that there is always some good in a person, regardless of the crime that person committed. The psychology behind using compliments within a transition statement is two-fold. First, it allows the suspect to believe that, because of his positive character traits, the investigator is giving him special treatment by providing the opportunity for input to the final report (his confession). The implication is that if the suspect were not such a nice guy the investigator would simply act on the evidence without further talking to the suspect. Second, it is human nature to generalize the overall credibility of a message when there is strong agreement with part of the message. Consequently, when the investigator first tells the suspect that there is no doubt that he committed the crime and follows this up with a statement that the suspect is a decent person, the guilty suspect is placed in a dilemma. If the suspect attacks the investigator's finding of guilt, he is also indirectly refuting the investigator's statement that the suspect is a decent person. The tactic of complimenting the suspect is often combined with one of the three following transition statements.

To determine the circumstances surrounding the suspect's crime

. "Joe, as I said there is no doubt that you did this but I want to sit down with you to find out what the circumstances were that led up to this thing happening. What a person does is often not nearly as important as why he did it." [Start theme]

This transition statement takes advantage of the often held belief by the guilty suspect that his crime was somewhat justified. When a guilty suspect is told at the outset of an interrogation that there is no doubt that he committed the crime, his mind will naturally focus on ways to minimize the consequences of his criminal act. By directing the interrogation around the circumstances surrounding the crime the guilty suspect, through wishful thinking, may believe that if his crime was somewhat justified that he will be afforded special consideration. Because of its apparent logic, this is the most often used transition statement during our interrogations.

To find out what kind of person the suspect is:

"Joe, there are two types of people who would do something like this. One is a common criminal who carefully plans things like this out and probably has done things like this dozens of times before. The other type is someone who acts out of character because of extraneous circumstances going on in their life. My problem, right now, is that I don't know what type of person you are." [Start theme]

Similar to the last transition statement, the investigator here is setting the stage for the suspect to present his crime in a more favorable light. Regardless of the crime committed, no guilty suspect perceives himself as a low-down, no-good thief, rapists or murderer. This transition statement works well for suspects who are most concerned about personal consequences such as having to face a supervisor, spouse or parent with their crime. In essence the investigator is allowing the suspect to save face by coupling his admission with the denial that he is some sort of hardened criminal.

To establish the extent or frequency of the suspect's involvement:

"Joe there is absolutely no doubt that you have accepted money to overlook traffic offenses. We have several well documented occurrences where you did this. My concern, right now, is how often you have done this and what other activities you might be involved in."

This transition statement is ideal for a suspect in on-going crimes such as embezzlements, receiving kickbacks, stealing cars or burglarizing homes. The investigator does not have to present specific evidence supporting the suspect's guilt on the incident that started the investigation, which could be attacked by the suspect. Rather, the interrogation theme develops an exaggerated scenario where, for example, a concern is expressed that others may believe that the suspect has accepting thousands of dollars worth of bribes. Eventually, the investigator would ask, "Is there any way the total amount of money you've accepted to overlook traffic violations would be more than $100,000?" When the suspect responds, "No way n not even close to that." he has made his first admission of guilt.

In conclusion, the vast majority of interrogations are conducted on a suspect from whom a confession is needed to develop the necessary evidence to prove that person's guilt. If a suspect recognizes that the investigator has insufficient evidence to prove his guilt, certainly he will not fortify the government's efforts to punish him by providing a confession. To say this in another way, it is never in a suspect's best interests to confess. Therefore, to persuade a suspect to tell the truth about his involvement in a crime requires that the investigator create a pretense for the interrogation that appears to somehow benefit the suspect. Legally, this pretense cannot be in the form of offering the suspect leniency. However, a legally accepted premise for conducting an interrogation is to acknowledge uncertainty concerning some aspect of the suspect's crime. This is precisely what the transition statement accomplishes. On the one hand the investigator states that there is no doubt as to the suspect's guilt but on the other hand acknowledges that not everything is known about the suspect's crime (such as the circumstances that led up to it or how many other times he has done the same thing). In clarifying this uncertainty, of course, the suspect makes his first admission of guilt which eventually leads to a full confession.

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