Conducting Successful Interrogations

Continuing to obtain erroneous or fabricated facts while trying to secure truthful admissions causes investigators to lose the advantage in the interrogation process. Once investigators determine that interrogation is warranted, obtaining the truth from the subjects becomes their only goal.

Developing Persuasive Themes and Arguments

Lack of arguments and themes to persuade subjects to tell the truth stands as a major cause of interrogation failures. Three main solutions exist for combating this problem. First, experience provides investigators with an ever-increasing supply of arguments. Conducting more interrogations gives investigators additional ideas and a wider variety of themes to pursue.

Next, preparation allows investigators to plan their persuasive themes and arguments before interrogating subjects. Certain themes and arguments remain universally valuable in conducting successful interrogations. These concepts include minimizing the crime, blaming the victim, decreasing the shamefulness of the act, increasing guilt feelings, and appealing to the subject’s hope for a better outcome. However, the interrogator should not make this latter appeal as a promise of leniency for the subject. Such a promise violates the subject’s right to due process of law and may provide the legal basis for excluding the confession as evidence.6 Also, many crimes suggest a number of related themes. For example, theft may bring to mind such themes as stealing to support certain lifestyles, blaming the victims, obtaining the subjects’ version of the incidents, or even commending the subjects for the professionalism of the crimes.

Finally, conducting good interviews before the interrogations and noting the subjects’ key responses allow investigators to convert these answers into persuasive themes and arguments in interrogations.7 Knowing what is important to subjects gives interrogators plenty of topics to convert into themes, which helps combat their greatest problem—running out of things to talk about during interrogations.

Investigators should have themes and arguments ready and be prepared to relate them to the facts of the case. If investigators present all of their prepared themes and arguments, they can start over and present them again using different words and examples. This process can continue for as long as necessary to obtain confessions. Generally, the skillful presentation of frequently used themes and arguments, along with any specific ones developed during interviews, results in successful interrogations.

Establishing a Plan

An uncomplicated, four-step plan can provide investigators with an effective, well-proven method of ensuring interrogation success.8 First, investigators confront subjects, either forcefully or moderately, with the facts and issues surrounding the incidents and usually accuse them of complicity in the crimes. Generally, subjects deny the allegations. Then, investigators begin to cut off or stop these denials. They must frustrate the subjects’ attempts to circumvent the truth by continually halting these denials throughout the interrogation process. Otherwise, subjects increasingly will believe that they can avoid confessing their actual involvement in the crimes.

An effective method of cutting off theses denials involves interrogators’ repeatedly acknowledging the subjects’ participation in the crimes while questioning only their motivations for committing the acts. By continually affirming the subjects’ involvement, investigators can maintain better control of the interrogation process. At this point, subjects may stop offering denials and begin providing excuses or justifications for their actions. This shift in their behavior encourages investigators because it indicates progress in the interrogation.

During the third step, investigators present their themes, and arguments. If subjects again offer denials, interrogators should stop them and present additional themes and arguments. As the core of interrogations, themes, and arguments originate from investigators’ experiences, observations, and personal knowledge. Some themes are universal; others apply to specific crimes. Still others appear to have no direct relevance to the incident.9 Any theme may have a substantial emotional impact on interrogation subjects. Themes convince subjects to tell the truth, regardless of the consequences. Without a solid foundation of prepared themes and arguments, interrogations usually fail.

Finally, as subjects begin to succumb to the interrogation but still need slightly more inducement to tell the truth, officers can present alternative or closing questions. These face-saving questions allow subjects to make an admission without losing their dignity. Alternative questions include asking subjects whether they planned the crime or committed it on impulse and whether they stole to support an addiction or to help their families. Any positive responses to these inquiries reveal an admission of truthful involvement by the subjects.

Using such a plan allows interrogators to monitor the ongoing development and progress occurring during interrogations. Also, it provides interrogators with a proven road map for obtaining the confessions that can lead to successfully resolving criminal cases.