Evidence Collection | Interviews, Interrogations, & Confrontations

Evidence Collection | Interviews Interrogations Confrontations

 

Every time the words in the title come up, a mixture of confusion, substitution, and misalignment of the words comes up. What goes on in an interview is suddenly confused with what happens in a confrontation. A confrontation gets substituted for an interview. Interrogations get misaligned with an interview, and so on. If we don’t have a set of rules to guide us, a lack of understanding in the way of interviews and interrogations can lead to the perception of a bad arrest, bad encounters, or even worse, reasonable doubt.

 

What is an Interview?

First, to define an interview, like everything else in this topic, is tricky. We have some basic ways of outline these processes, but in remembering that our process involves another person, whom we have limited control over, if any, means that the boundaries are subject to ebb and flow. However, in exercising control over the process, this limits those opportunities. And that’s where we want to maintain any encounter with people related to an investigation, but none more than an interview.

Interviews are fact-finding missions. Our job to this point has been to respond to a scene, identify key people involved, and then take further action in determining the events that took place. It could be a simple scene, where a person has been stopped by store loss prevention for minor theft, and the suspect has been recorded on picture-perfect camera from the time they entered the store, to the time they exited. In this scenario, our duties are clear cut. One could argue that the only interviews necessary are those involving the loss prevention personnel. Though best practices tell us at least attempting to get a statement from the suspect is a task involved.

But let’s think of a more complex situation. Let’s say there’s a bar in your town, with an isolated alley behind it, that gets rather dark at night. There’s no cameras present, and the bar hosts a lot of people on the weekends. Several people get into an argument, that gets separated by other patrons, but as one of them exits through the alley to walk home, they are confronted by people in the original argument. The lone person gets assaulted, badly. And now it’s up to you to piece together, from a scene of intoxicated individuals, what happened. This is where set guidelines for interviews come into play the best. When we have many factors working against us in obtaining the information we need to solve the incident at hand. First, how should we carry out an interview? We have several ways of handling such a scene. One, we could go right to conducting interviews, in the bar, one at a time until we’ve received what we believe will be the most complete information available at the time. There’s some pros and cons to this. For one, it’s immediate, which means people don’t have time to organize how they want to provide information. This gets us the most honest take by each person who knows of the situation. But keep in mind, as you interview people in this setting, things like internal interference, the pressure placed upon one another, the comfortable surroundings, can all factor into the reliability of the information you get from this crowd. Corralling everyone to the station can present a challenge, especially with the more people you’re managing. But the station can provide some basic advantages lost in public, like the ability to isolate people, the ability to control each interview, having home-field advantage are just a few of the perks.

Again, time plays against us, and really there is no situation that it won’t. Being thorough from start to finish is important. In either scenario, time works against us, so we must pick a plan that we think gives us the best advantage.

Moving on from that, we need to treat these interviews as nothing more than fact-finding missions. A bar fight that leads to serious trauma can cause us to get into a tunnel, and we can’t get that specific just yet. First, we want to ask questions concerning the timeline of events. Each person could potentially provide details that others are not aware are important. In developing questions for the incident, we want to cast as wide of a net as possible. Rather than focusing on the action that took place, trying to develop the events that took place before the assault are crucial, because what occurred may be part of a bigger picture, like two co-workers who have had an ongoing feud over their respective job duties, or a dispute between neighbors has escalated, really the possibilities are endless. The goal is to try and obtain as much background information on the events that took place, rather than simply focusing on the incident itself.

Maintaining objectivity in interviews can be difficult. Remember, each person is going to respond emotionally, intellectually, and even physiologically different to what they saw and experienced. All of that informs how they provide details, and why they choose the words they provide. Deciphering the integrity of statements during an interview are not a priority in the incident we are discussing. And that may sound counterintuitive, but what we want to do is obtain as much knowledge about what occurred as possible. If someone is blatantly lying to us, that may be worth addressing and countering, but then we’d be heading into interrogation territory, which isn’t our focus in that moment. The reality is, if someone is lying to us, the remainder of statements gathered are going to show that person, or persons, to be outliers to the rest of the events. When that happens, that person self-identifies as having some form of involvement. They may not have carried out the assault. They may only have a minor role. But in allowing them to produce an unchallenged statement of their own volition, they’ve now trapped themselves in that statement, which sets them up for much more productive interrogation. And that’s what we’ll cover in our next article.

Getting back to casting a wide net, while we want to develop questions that allow for objectivity, once you’ve received as much information as a question allows for, or at least, the person giving a statement appears to be providing all that they can or will, then you can dial down the subject matter of that question with more specific questions. Starting wide and ending narrow is the most productive way of running basic interviews. There will always be situations where the reverse is true, or even that an unconventional approach to interviewing is necessary, but our most basic approach should be starting wide, and ending narrow. This allows the person providing a statement to give us their most logical order of events. And since we don’t know the dynamic to the situation, it’s best to let each witness, suspect, victim, and bystander to provide their best possible information by not adding details from us, or by shaping their responses through our questions. Even if it’s a scene where we’ve caught our suspect in the act, if we want reliable information from others moving forward, we have to give every person the chance of provide an objectivity interview, free of assumptions, leading, or other manipulation that might be perceived by a defense or jury. This approach always plays better in court, because once you have to interrogate people, if they started with a basic interview, it shows they were given an opportunity to be honest, forthcoming, free of hostility. People like it when others appear to have dignity in-tact, even if they decide to lie while maintaining it.

 

In Review

We didn’t offer a lot of strategy in this article, we simply gave an overview of how an interview should be conducted, and explained how interviews should be handled, despite scenarios that lead to strong suspicions. Our goal in interviews is to simply obtain facts. Yes, those facts may be skewed by each person’s perspective. They may have holes in them. And perhaps another person who witnessed the incident fills those holes in. The fact remains, that the more you allow your interviews to contain open, “wide net” type questions, the better your interview process appears on the outside, and the better information you will eventually obtain. The better the information, the better your case becomes, and the easier it is to demonstrate why certain people are singled out for interrogation.

Focusing on making the interview an unassuming environment can be difficult, especially with all the cynical people we deal with. Keep in mind your process, why you follow it, and why those rules win out in the end. Achieving the perfect case is probably impossible. But achieving perfect interviews doesn’t have to be.

Stay safe out there!