Deception Whether conducted by the patrol officer, the victim’s advocate, the prosecutor or the investigator assigned to a special unit in the criminal investigation division, the interview of a victim, witness, suspect or informant is a critical element of any investigation. Precious resources in the form of man power, money, time and equipment can be wasted because of the failure of the interviewer to conduct a complete interview and accurately evaluate the credibility of the information gained from the subject interviewed. As a part of the three pillars of the criminal investigative process, a thorough and complete interview provides greater insight into the psychological elements of the suspect or even victim’s behaviors during the commission of the crime. The interview can also provide understanding of and give a clear definition to the evidence isolated by the forensic investigation of the case.
In spite of its importance however, the value of the interview alone can be nil without the psychological and forensic pillars. By the same token a poorly executed interview along with a flawed effort to assess credibility can degrade if not destroy the efforts in the forensic and psychological portions of the investigation and any subsequent prosecution. A complete and successful interview will almost always be characterized by four basic elements: orientation, narration, cross-examination and resolution. In its own way, each of these four elements is unique and accomplishes specific goals. Without all four elements no interview will be complete. Orientation is accomplished on both an overt and covert level.
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Overtly the function of the orientation period is to establish some form of dialogue with the subject being interviewed. This can be achieved through personal introduction s and possibly some form of brief light conversation if conditions and time permit. It is also the period during which the interviewer advises the subject as to the purpose of the interview, its importance, and the necessity to be totally forthcoming, honest and cooperative. Granted in many cases this is not going to be a socially comfortable situation nor will it always intended to be so. Covertly the objective of the investigative interviewer to establish some form of understanding of the person baseline or “constant” of normal verbal and non-verbal behaviors. It is with “constant” in mind the interviewer will be able to readily identify significant changes in the subject’s emotional and mentally status which may need further exploration at a later point during the interview.
The next phase of the interview is the narration. In this segment the subject of the interview is offered the opportunity to relate the facts and information within their realm of knowledge that they believe is most important to them. It is critical at this point for the interviewer to permit the subject the opportunity to fully disclose all the information that feel critical. The subject may be asked to described what they have heard about the incident or possibly their opinion about what they think might have happened. The interview will also offer encouragement for a subject to continue their narration if at some point they appear to have run out of steam and their narration is incomplete.
The interviewer’s task during the narration is to make an assessment of the subject behavior to determine the degree of credibility to the subject remarks. Having already established a “constant” from the orientation portion the interviewer looks for significant “changes” in the subject’s demeanor that suggest an increase in stress on both the mental and emotional level. These “changes” suggest that the topic area is significant to the speaker and may in fact be locations where there may be deception on the part of the subject. The investigative interviewer will also make note of any inconsistencies in the description of events and the exiting forensic details and the contents of any other previous interviews with other subjects, victims, or witnesses. Once armed with the information gained during the narrative and an analysis of possible deception the interviewer then moves into the “cross-examination” phase. The task before the interviewer now is to address the inconsistencies identified in the subject’s narrative and attempt to ascertain the full details omitted or altered and clarify the true facts.
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It is also the opportunity for the investigative interviewer to revisit any topic areas during which the subject exhibited significant stress changes to determine the cause of those changes in behavior. Did they occur because the subject is embarrassed about disclosing certain details? Was it because they have been traumatized by the events? Have these behavioral symptoms occurred because the subject has either withheld details or fabricated information in an attempt to deliberately mislead the interviewer? The objective is to obtain truthful and accurate information from the subject. It is during the narration and cross-examination phases that the productive investigative interviewer may be able to accurately make and assessment of the available verbal and nonverbal cues of behavior. In general, the general population as well as police officers, lawyers, judges, juries, and all other areas of society are poor judges of deception and historically only correctly identify about fifty percent of the lies to which they are exposed. This poor detection of deception- performance is the result of three elements.
First, some interviewers traditionally label the wrong behaviors as deception signals because of a lack of knowledge of what are reliable cues. Second, some fail to recognize reliable cues to deception. Finally, they may overlook the reliable symptoms or dismiss instinctive suspicions because they “fallen in like” with the person. In other words, interviewers have developed a subjective or personal connection with the individual that can bias the analysis. It’s obvious that similarly a strong dislike for an individual can also bias the observer in the direction of claiming symptoms of deception when none have been exhibited or expressed by the subject.
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Extensive research has been conducted in the area of the identification of deception behaviors as it is observe under various conditions. Non verbally deception behaviors include negation, aversion, performance and contradiction cues with some incriminating value being found in control behaviors. Negation is identified as any contact with the head that covers any of the orifices of the head (eyes, nose, mouth and ears) including scratching, rubbing, or even all out covering or hiding. Aversion behaviors include any major aggressive movement of the body away from the interviewer.
This would include total body leans, turning of the torso away, turning of the head away or throwing the head back and away and even changing the position of the legs by pointing or stretching them away from the interviewer. Contradiction behaviors can be seen on any of three levels. There may be a disagreement or “conflict messages” verbal signals, body language signals, or between verbal and nonverbal cues. A simple verbal contradiction may a subject saying that they are not upset but yet the voice pitch and volume are both very high. A contradiction in nonverbal signals could be a subject who is smiling while at the same time is engaging the interviewer with a hard, piercing stare. Finally a contradiction between verbal and nonverbal cues could be saying “No” while at the same time shaking the head yes or verbalizing words and voice quality that would be seen as a sing of depression but yet exhibiting high anxiety by showing three whites of the eyes called “san p aku.”Performance” behaviors and “control” behaviors are on the opposite ends of the behavior activity continuum.
“Performance” symptoms identified as very long head shaking of yes or no, or over exaggeration of responses or physical gestures as a means to “over sell” the response to the listening. On the other hand “control” cues are an obvious attempt be the subject to suppress normal gestures. These may include sitting on the hands at certain points of the interview. It can be exhibited by jamming the hands in the pockets, tightly gripping the arms of a chair or even hand wringing. In all the above instances I think it is important for all interviewers to use critical guidelines to make an accurate analysis. First, no single symptom or behavior proves anything because even truthful subjects can generate a random symptom that is of no consequence.
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It is important therefore to look for a “cluster” of symptoms – two or more behaviors occurring at the same moment. Finally the behaviors should be “timely” in that they should occur or will occur at the same moment the mental and emotional stress level of the subject either peaks or dramatically ceases. Without the knowledge of which behavioral cues are reliable markers of deception, the interviewer will not be able to conduct a successful analysis of the subject’s narrative nor will they be effective at unlocking the truth during the cross-examination phase. The final element of a successful interview will be the “resolution” phase. It is during this portion of the interview that the subject after effective cross-examination acknowledges their responsibility in the commission of the act or in the least that they had a motive to at least deliberately lead or outright lie to the interviewer. For these acts they must accept the consequences and provide truthful information to the interviewer.
It is through a “narrative based” interview that the investigative interviewer will be able to obtain the largest quantity of information as well as the highest quality. Without dedication by the investigator to attain these goals their efforts in the psychological assessment and the forensic identification, collection, preservation and analysis may suffer severely and ultimately the satisfactory conclusion of their case. Invariably there will also be only one real good opportunity to achieve these goals. It is imperative that the interviewer gets it right the first time.