Statement Analysis: What Do Suspects’ Words Really Reveal?

Lack Of Conviction

Another important factor in statement analysis is a person’s lack of conviction. When analyzing a statement, investigators should note if the person feigns a loss of memory by repeatedly inserting “I don’t remember” or “I can’t recall.” They also should look to see if the person hedges during the narrative by using such phrases as “I think,” “I believe,” “to the best of my knowledge,” or “kind of.” These phrases, also called qualifiers, serve to temper the action about to be described, thereby discounting the message before it even is transmitted.5

Clearly, the person giving the statement is avoiding commitment, and warning bells should ring in the investigator’s ears. The following is a transcript of an oral statement of a college student who reported that a man broke into her apartment at 3:30 a.m. and raped her. A statement regarding such a traumatic experience should brim with conviction, which this statement clearly lacks.

“He grabbed me and held a knife to my throat. And when I woke up and I was, I mean I was really asleep and I didn’t know what was going on, and I kind of you know I was scared and I kind of startled when I woke up, You know, You know I was startled and he, he told, he kept telling me to shut up and he asked me if I could feel the knife.”

It is important to consider the phrase, “I kind of startled when I woke up.” Certainly, this is not a normal reaction for a woman who awakens in the middle of the night to see an unknown man at her bed and to feel a knife at her throat. The word “terrified” more appropriately comes to mind. Using the words “kind of startled” shows a gross deviation from the expected normal reaction of terror.

Another example of lack of conviction can be found in a written statement given by a relative of a woman who mysteriously disappeared. Investigators asked the missing woman’s sister-in-law to recount the activities that took place on the weekend of the disappearance. After claiming memory lapses and showing a general lack of specificity, the sister-in-law ended her statement with: “…that was about it. These were my actions on the weekend to the best I can recall.” Any investigator reading the above statement should seriously question whether the events were described accurately and completely.

Balance Of The Statement

A statement given by a suspect or an alleged victim should be examined by investigators for overall balance. Statements should be more than just a series of details. They need to sound like an account of the event. A truthful statement has three parts. The first part details what was going on before the event occurred; it places the event in context. The second part describes the occurrence itself, i.e., what happened during the theft, the rape, the fire, etc. The last part tells what occurred after the event, including actions and emotions, and should be at least as long as the first part. The more balanced the three parts of the statement, the greater the probability that the statement is true.6

A statement containing the same number of lines in the before, during, and after parts, i.e., 33 1/3 percent in each part, indicates truth, although some degree of variation from perfect balance can be expected. If any part of a statement is incomplete or missing altogether, then the statement is probably false.

The following breakdown of a statement written by a man whose home burned shows a deviation too great from the balanced norm. The man provided a 56-line account of what happened that day, divided as follows:

  • BEFORE the fire: 33 lines -59.0%
  • DURING the fire: 16 lines – 28.5%
  • AFTER the fire: 7 lines – 12.5%

Investigators concluded that the above distribution indicates deception, because the three parts of the statement are clearly out of balance. The “before” section is too long and the “after” section is too short. Examination of the statement revealed that in the first part, the writer provided too much information totally unrelated to the fire. This signaled the investigators to ask themselves, “Is the writer stalling or trying to justify his actions?” Also, the statement contained sparse information on what happened after the fire and lacked any indication of emotion. There was no sign of anger, shock, or sense of loss. The writer, who showed no concern about the consequences of the fire, ultimately confessed to setting it.