The Use of the Restitution Question During an Interrogation

Written By: Reid
Mar 01, 2003

During training in the Reid Nine Steps of Interrogation, we teach that when a suspect appears to be ready to confess the investigator should ask an alternative question. As an example the investigator may ask, "Did you plan this out for months and months in advanced where you had it calculated down to the second or did it pretty much happen on the spur of the moment? It was the spur of the moment wasn't it?" If the suspect nods his head in agreement all is well. But what if the suspect offers a weak denial such as, "But honestly, I didn't even do it." When a suspect (whose guilt is reasonably certain) continues to reject the alternative question, the investigator may consider asking a restitution question.

The restitution question is a generic term describing any question designed to allow the suspect to make a partial concession of guilt which may then be used as a stepping stone to elicit the first admission of guilt. Consider that a bank teller is being interrogated on the theft of $2000. The investigator may ask her, "At least would you be willing to repay the missing money?" If the teller agrees to do this, she has made the first step toward admitting her theft. Other examples of restitution questions include:

"Would you like me to talk to the (victim) and find out what they would do if their property was returned?" (Burglary)

"Would you be willing to submit an amended insurance claim?" (Insurance fraud)

"Would you at least be willing to give up alcohol and stop drinking?" (Interrogation where intoxication was blamed for affecting the suspect's judgment."

"Would you at least agree to get psychological counseling?" (Child abuse, sexual assault, battery)

"Would you be willing to agree to supervised visits with your children?" (Child abuse)

Guilty suspects will often agree to make such concessions because it allows them to relieve anxiety and guilt associated with their crime without accepting personal responsibility for committing it. If the suspect is reluctant to accept the concession, e.g., reimbursing stolen money, the investigator may consider questioning the suspect's integrity in an effort to persuade the suspect to agree with the concession. The following dialogue illustrates this:

I: "Joe, at least would you be willing to repay the $2000?"
S: "I'm not saying I took it."
I: "Listen Joe. I've treated you pretty decently this afternoon haven't I? You know that I didn't have to come in here and go over these results with you, right? I thought you were basically an honest person who acted out of character but if you're not even willing to consider repaying the money that tells me I was wrong about you -- maybe you are just a dishonest thief. Now, I'm not saying you have to pay it all back today. Heck, if you had the money you wouldn't have needed it in the first place. I'm just talking about repaying it eventually. You'd be willing to do that, wouldn't you?"
S: I guess.

Once the suspect agrees with the restitution question, the investigator must still elicit the first admission of guilt and develop the full confession. Often this can be accomplished by simply asking a detail question about the suspect's crime. This is illustrated by continuing on with the previous dialogue:

I: "Do you have any of the $2000 left?"
S: "No.
I: "So you must have really needed it badly. What did you need it for?"
S: "To pay bills."
I: "What bills did you have to pay?"
S: "Over Christmas I charged all sorts of presents to my credit card and I kept getting further and further behind in my credit card payments and when I saw the strap of $50's on the counter I decided to take it."
I: "So you needed it to repay money that you had spent for others. I can understand that. What counter did you find the $2000 on that you took? [continue with corroboration]

Other detail questions to consider asking once the suspect agrees with the restitution question include:
[Returning stolen property] "To let the homeowners know you are sincere, what property could you give back to them this week?"

[Amended insurance claim] "Have you ever exaggerated the amount of an insurance claim before?"

[Stopping drinking] "Am I correct in assuming that if you had not been drinking that evening you never would have (committed crime)?"

[Psychological counseling] "Can you promise me that if you get counseling (victim) will be the last person you do this to?"

[Supervised visits] "Can you promise me that if you have supervised visits you will never again (burn your son)?

Investigators must appreciate that the restitution question is merely a pathway which may lead to an eventual confession. Agreeing with the compromise suggested by the investigator is not, in and of itself, an admission of guilt. In an actual case involving the theft of several hundreds of dollars from a cash register, the investigation immediately focused on a recently hired young employee. During the course of accusatory questioning this employee agreed to repay the stolen money. At no time did she admit stealing the missing funds. The employer was prepared to discharge this employee on the grounds of theft but fortunately consulted us. In an effort to establish legitimate grounds for discharge we suggested that the only other employee with access to the missing funds be interviewed. This employee, who was a long-term and trusted manager, exhibited deceptive behavior and was subsequently interrogated. Her full confession to the theft exonerated the employee who was willing to reimburse the stolen funds.

For more information on specialized interrogation techniques consider ordering The Investigator Anthology or attending our advanced course on interviewing and interrogation techniques.

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