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Michel St-Yves and Christian A. Meissner
We never feel so great a degree of repugnance in divulging
what is really criminal, as what is merely ridiculous.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Confessions
The interrogation1of suspects is undoubtedly the most chal-
lenging type of investigative interview. From the very outset of the
interview, investigators must inform interviewees of their right to
remain silent and their right to immediately consult legal coun-
sel—who, most probably, will advise them to remain silent. Under
these circumstances, it requires great skill, and sometimes creativ-
ity, to obtain information relevant to criminal investigations without
infringing on suspects’ rights.
The quest for a confession often motivates investigators
to use strategies and techniques that are controversial, either
because they are illegal (e.g., torture) or because they entail risks
or are ethically problematic (e.g., certain so-called “persuasive”
techniques). Such techniques may violate suspects’ rights, and are
more likely to elicit false confessions (see Kassin & Gudjonsson,
2004). On the other hand, it has been estimated that a significant
proportion of crimes (up to one third, according to some authors)
would never have been resolved without a confession (Cassell,
1999; Inbau, Reid, Buckley & Jayne, 2001; Irving & McKenzie,
1989; Leo, 1996; McConville, 1993; Moston, Stephenson &
Williamson, 1992; St-Yves & Deslauriers-Varin, 2009). Horvath
and Meesig (1996) have demonstrated that technical evidence is
1. In this chapter, “interrogation” refers to an interview with a suspect.
available in less than 10% of police investigations. It is hardly
surprising, therefore, that the police deploy a wide variety of infor-
mation-collection strategies in order to bring their investigation to
a successful conclusion.
The conduct of police interrogations varies considerably from
country to country, reflecting variations in legal frameworks,
including the type of custody, presence of lawyers, and recording
(audio or video) of the interview (see St-Yves, Sellie & Vuidard,
2013). In turn, the legal framework influences the model of interro-
gation. Thus, accusatorial methods are particularly common in
North America, where the emphasis is on extracting a confession.
On the other hand, approaches that limit the use of techniques that
are unethical or prejudicial to the suspect are increasingly com-
mon in Europe and Australia, where the emphasis is on collecting
information. An example of this latter approach is the PEACE2
model, developed in the United Kingdom—where, in fact, the term
“interrogation” has been banished from police parlance because of its
coercive connotation, and the preferred term is now “interview”,
regardless of whether the interviewee is a suspect, witness, or victim.
This chapter will first review the weight currently given to
confessions in the legal system, and describe the primary factors
associated with confessions and denials. This will be followed by an
examination of the psychological characteristics of suspects, and
an overview of the conduct of interrogations, from preparation to
conclusion. The primary stages of police interrogations (common to
most models) and suspects’ psychological processes during this
type of interview will also be discussed. Some strategies used by
the police to influence the decision making of suspects and over-
come resistance will be reviewed, and the chapter concludes with a
discussion of the value of best practices in conducting successful
interviews and reducing the likelihood of false confession.
A) THE IMPORTANCE OF JUDICIAL CONFESSION
Judicial confession is a person’s avowal of the truth of an alle-
gation against him or her (Bénézech, 1995, p. 63). This mea culpa
was long considered absolute evidence, and led directly to convic-
tion. It was only in the 19th century that the courts began to ques-
146 INVESTIGATIVE INTERVIEWING – THE ESSENTIALS
2. Planning and preparation (P), Engage and explain (E), Account (A), Closure (C),
tion some of the methods used to obtain confessions, and hence the
admissibility of confessions as evidence. Although confession is
no longer the gold standard of evidence, extracting one remains,
for many police investigators, the principal objective of an interro-
The criteria for what constitutes a confession and when a con-
fession is admissible as evidence are essential for situating the role
of interrogations in current legal systems. However, definitions of
confessions vary widely, from a simple nod of the head or “yes” to a
detailed description of the crime, complete with corroborating
details (details known only to the perpetrator and the police) that
allow authentication of the confession. For Leo (1996), true confes-
sions must be detailed and verifiable, but Cassell and Hayman
(1996) consider mere denial to be sufficiently incriminating in
some circumstances, especially when the police are able to prove
the falsehood of the suspect’s statement.
Confessions are sometimes the only way to obtain a convic-
tion, and may even lead to the resolution of related investigations.
Even when they do not directly lead to convictions, they may fur-
ther investigations by collecting evidence and information related
to circumstances, motives, or the crime itself (Phillips & Brown,
Suspects who confess during interrogation are 20% more
likely to be charged and 26% more likely to be convicted (Leo,
1996), as well being more likely to receive severe sentences. Kassin
and Neumann (1997) demonstrated that confession has a stronger
impact on jury decisions than many other types of evidence, includ-
ing eyewitness testimony. As Hans Gross (1901) pointed out, con-
fession is a unique psychological phenomenon that is difficult to
explain, since it is invariably prejudicial to the person confessing.
1. Why Do Some People Confess their Crimes and Others
People confess to crimes for many reasons, some counterin-
tuitive. Some people confess to clear their conscience, or because
they feel a need to be punished—sometimes even if they have com-
mitted no crime (Reik, 1973). Others do so when faced with incon-
trovertible evidence. It has been estimated that 40-60% of suspects
INTERVIEWING SUSPECTS 147
confess (Baldwin & McConville, 1980; Cassell & Hayman, 1996;
Clark & Milne, 2001; Deslauriers-Varin & St-Yves, 2006; Irving &
Mckenzie, 1989; Leo, 1996; Mitchell, 1983; Moston & Stephenson,
1992; Neubauer 1974; Pearse et al., 1998; Phillips & Brown, 1998;
Softley, 1980; St-Yves, 2004a; St-Yves & Tanguay, 2009; Zander,
1979). Confession rates are reported to be higher among minors
(Courvoisier, 2013; Ruback & Vardaman, 1997).
On the other hand, an equal number of people do not confess
to the police. The primary motivation for failure to confess is fear of
consequences, including loss of integrity, imprisonment, as well as
social (loss of spouse, family, friends), financial, and employment
costs. From a suspect’s perspective, the stakes are often high and
the benefits negligible.
2. The Decision Making Process: To Confess or Not?
Confession is a dynamic process influenced by the interaction
of many individual, social, emotional, cognitive, and situational
factors (Deslauriers-Varin, Lussier & St-Yves, 2011; Gudjonsson,
2003; Houston, Meissner & Evans, 2014; Irving & Hilgendorf,
1980; Moston, Stephenson & Williamson, 1992; St-Yves, 2004b).
Suspects interrogated by the police must make a complex series of
decisions: Talk or remain silent? Tell the truth or lie? Tell all the
truth or only part? These decisions depend on a suspect’s percep-
tion of the choices available at that moment, the instrumental
value of the choices (based on a cost-benefit calculation), and the
probable consequences of the choices (Irving & Hilgendorf, 1980;
see also Cornish & Clark, 1986, on rational choice theory).
3. Internal and External Pressure
Internal pressure arises from feelings of guilt and responsi-
bility, and the need—sometimes compulsive (i.e., irrepress-
ible)—to confess. According to psychoanalytical theory, when the
superego (which controls and censures the ego) transgresses a rule
or social norm, it develops a strong feeling of guilt and a need for
self-punishment. Under these circumstances, guilt is an attempt
sure principle) (Reik, 1973). Or, as Victor Hugo observed: Remorse
is the corrosion of a soul crushed by crime.
148 INVESTIGATIVE INTERVIEWING – THE ESSENTIALS
Confession may also provide a feeling of liberation and valu-
able catharsis (Berggren, 1975). Almost 40% of suspects report
feeling relieved after confessing, and a comparable proportion
report having confessed because they felt guilty (Gudjonsson &
Bownes, 1992; Gudjonsson & Petursson, 1991; Gudjonsson &
Sigurdsson, 1999; Sigurdsson & Gudjonsson, 1994; St-Yves, 2002).
Houston, Meissner and Evans’s (2014) meta-analysis indicates
that true confessions obtained under controlled conditions are
associated with perceived guilt about, and responsibility for, the
crime under investigation. However, feelings of guilt are insuffi-
cient on their own to elicit confessions. St-Yves (2002) observed
that slightly more than half (52%) of convicted sexual offenders
who reported feelings of guilt or remorse did not admit their crime
to the police.
External pressure may be exerted by a suspect’s family or
peers, or may be the result of interrogation strategies. Threats and
promises, even subtle ones, may drive suspects to confess—even if
they have done nothing wrong—simply to put an end to pressure
they find unbearable (Kassin & McNall, 1991). Furthermore, legal
cautions (right to remain silent, right to legal counsel) may be real
or perceived external pressures. For example, the legal caution in
use in the United Kingdom indicates: Youdonothavetosayany-
thing. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when
questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything
you do say may be given in evidence3.Inotherwords:it’snowor
never. This form of pressure is similar to the scarcity principle,
described by Cialdini (2009). This manipulative and persuasive
tactic, widespread in sales, may induce false confessions (Houston
et al., 2014).
Although “pressure” is undoubtedly the most controversial
issue in police interrogations, most authors agree that it is inevita-
ble, at least in theory, and probably necessary for confession
(Gudjonsson, 2003; Inbau et al., 2001; St-Yves & Tanguay, 2009).
While pressure may originate in the suspect (internal pressure) or
elsewhere (external pressure), and may be real or only imagined,
its mere existence means that confession, although sometimes
desired, is never completely free and voluntary (St-Yves, 2004b,
INTERVIEWING SUSPECTS 149
3. Code of Practice C, 10.1; Burke, T., Street, R. and Brown, D., 2000, p. 27.
B) THE SUSPECT’S PSYCHOLOGICAL
Confession is the temptation of the guilty.
1. Introverted Personality
Individuals with an introverted personality are the most
likely to confess (Gudjonsson & Petursson, 1991; Gudjonsson &
Sigurdsson, 1999; St-Yves, 2002; 2004c). The propensity of intro-
anxiety, fears, lack of confidence, and social malaise. And in fact,
anxious individuals have difficulty coping with the pressure of
interrogations (Gudjonsson & Petursson, 1991). All this points to
the importance of building rapport with these suspects, making
them feel valued, and listening to them (St-Yves, 2004c). Suggest-
ibility during police interrogations has been reported to be associ-
ated with social desirability bias (Gudjonsson, 1983; Haraldsson,
1985) and low self-esteem (Gudjonsson & Clark, 1986), two traits
often found in introverts. Furthermore, conformism and vulnera-
bility to anxiety are strongly associated with the need to confess
(Gudjonsson & Sigurdsson, 1999).
Eysenck and Gudjonsson (1989) found that introverts were
more likely than extroverts to experience feelings of guilt when
transgressing rules—and the obligation to tell the truth is a rule
these individuals are faced with during an interrogation. Suspects
usually confess in order to eliminate or reduce anxiety elicited by
the interrogation: when internal pressures reach a critical level,
the suspect is purported to tell the truth (Jayne, 1986). Inbau, Reid
and Buckley (1986) have noted that individuals with a low toler-
ance for anxiety become visibly nervous during interrogations and
exhibit nonverbal behaviors, including avoidance of visual contact.
However, one should not conclude that every visibly nervous sus-
pect has committed a crime; such individuals may be nervous sim-
ply out of fear for being accused of a crime they did not commit
Because confession is a visceral process in introverts
(St-Yves, 2004c), tactics that increase internal pressure (guilt,
remorse, or psychological need to confess) are likely to prove use-
ful. Concretely, interviewers should focus on a suspect’s emotions,
150 INVESTIGATIVE INTERVIEWING – THE ESSENTIALS
in order to allow the suspect to explain his or her acts. Gudjonsson
and Petursson (1991) report that introverts are more likely to
explain their crime as an impulsive, unpremeditated act related to
a loss of control. Investigators must be empathetic and compas-
sionate during the interrogation of introverts, as these interviews
are likely to elicit intense emotions in these suspects (Jayne &
Buckley, 1999; St-Yves, 2004c).
Introverted suspects are often emotional during the interro-
gation, especially at the moment of their confession. For many,
confession is a form of deliverance; those who feel this way are
most likely to tell investigators that they are happy that it’s all
over now, and that it did them good to talk about it. Introverts
are more likely than extroverts to express compassion for their
victims and their victims’ loved ones. They generally feel guilty
and shameful about their crime, in some cases to the point of
wanting to apologize to the victim and the victim’s family.
2. Extroverted Personality
Individuals with an extroverted personality are the least
likely to cooperate with the police (Gudjonsson & Petursson, 1991;
Gudjonsson & Sigurdsson, 1999; St-Yves, 2002; 2004c). In a study
of confessions by sexual criminals, St-Yves (2002) observed that
criminals with an extroverted personality—and particularly those
with narcissistic traits—were the least likely to confess to the
police. While introverts appear to view confession as a personal
issue (related to self-esteem and integrity), extroverts appear to
view it primarily as a public one (related to image and reputation)
(St-Yves & Tanguay, 2009). Gudjonsson and Petursson (1991)
observed that extroverted suspects, especially those with antiso-
cial traits, were more resistant to police interrogation. It is almost
pathic profile—particularly because of their narcissistic and anti-
social characteristics, absence of remorse, and tendency to be
manipulative, and chronic liars (see Hare, 1991, 1998).
This relationship between an extroverted personality and a
tendency to not confess appears to reflect, in large part, these sus-
pects’ absence of guilt and remorse for their crimes—they feel no
need to confess (see St-Yves, 2002). It is also possible that extro-
INTERVIEWING SUSPECTS 151
verts’ lower anxiety levels allow them to cope more effectively with
the pressure of interrogations than introverts. Extroverts, partic-
ularly antisocial extroverts, have more extensive criminal records
than introverts, and their greater experience with police interro-
gations may also explain their lower confession rate (Evans, 1993;
Leo, 1996; Neubauer, 1974; Softley, 1980; St-Yves & Tanguay,
Internal pressure may be less effective in provoking confes-
sion in extroverts, because confession in these suspects is a cere-
bral, not visceral, process. These individuals are calculating, and
they attempt to ascertain the strength of the evidence, in order to
determine their best strategy: Should they keep silent or provide a
version of events that will allow them to escape as lightly as possi-
ble? To this end, they exhibit interest in the evidence investigators
have collected (“What makes you say that I did it?”). If they think
the evidence is conclusive, they seek the best outcome under the
circumstances (“What’s in it for me if I tell you?”). The confession of
their crime is intimately linked to their understanding of the
strength of the evidence. Investigators must therefore emphasize
the weight of evidence against them. While the interrogation of
introverted suspects resembles a therapy session or meeting of the
minds, the interrogation of extroverts resembles a chess game, a
C) THE INTERROGATION
The word “interrogate” is derived from the Latin “interro-
gare”—to ask at intervals. An interrogation is an interview at
which one questions someone about one or more specific points
they are thought to know and about which they must answer. It is,
by definition, an imposed interview: one submits to an interroga-
tion, suffers an interrogation, worms information out of someone,
extracts a confession. This duress may be more or less explicit,
but explains why interrogations are perceived or described as
oppressive to some extent.
1. To Accuse or to Gather Information?
Researchers have assessed the utility of various models of
interrogation used in different countries—two general forms of
152 INVESTIGATIVE INTERVIEWING – THE ESSENTIALS
interrogation have been identified. While accusatorial methods
are commonly used in the United States, Canada, and many Asian
nations (Costanzo & Redlich, 2010; Leo, 2008; Ma, 2007; Smith,
Stinson & Patry, 2009), countries such as the United Kingdom,
Norway, New Zealand, and Australia employ information-gather-
ing methods of interrogation (Bull & Soukara, 2010). Generally
speaking, information-gathering and accusatorial interrogation
methods can be distinguished along a number of dimensions. Infor-
mation-gathering methods seek to establish and maintain rapport
within the interview, and use direct, positive confrontation of
the suspect to elicit confessions or other self-incriminating state-
ments. These methods also take a strategic approach to introduc-
ing the available evidence against the defendant and identifying
contradictions in a narrative (see Bull, 2014; Granhag, Stromwall,
Willen & Hartwig, 2013). In contrast, accusatorial methods gener-
ally seek to establish control of the suspect and use psychological
manipulation (e.g., minimizing the perceived consequences associ-
ated with confession or the culpability of the suspect with regard to
the alleged crime) to achieve confession. These methods also fre-
quently present evidence of guilt early in an interrogation, some-
times including the introduction of false evidence, as a method of
maximizing a suspect’s perception of the evidence against him.
As such, these two methods result in different questioning
approaches, with information-gathering methods relying upon
open-ended, exploratory approaches and accusatorial methods
employing closed-ended, confirmatory approaches. The two meth-
ods also differ in their intended goals. Whereas information-
gathering methods place a premium on obtaining information,
accusatorial approaches aim to obtain confessions. Finally, the two
methods can be contrasted on the basis of the cues to deception that
they purport to elicit, with information-gathering methods focus-
ing more on the contents of the suspect’s narrative (cognitive cues)
and accusatorial methods purporting to manipulate the nonverbal
behaviour of the suspect (anxiety-based cues).
Research examining these two approaches to interrogation
has been conducted over the past decade. In a recent systematic
review of this literature, Meissner, Redlich, Bhatt, and Brandon
(2012) concluded that accusatorial methods were more likely to
increase the chances of eliciting a false confession, while informa-
tion-gathering methods appear to protect the innocent yet pre-
serve investigators’ ability to elicit true confessions from guilty
INTERVIEWING SUSPECTS 153
persons. Research has also shown that information-gathering
approaches elicit more guilty knowledge from suspects (Evans,
Meissner, Ross, Houston, Russano & Horgan, 2013), and as a
result produce more diagnostic cues to lying (Vrij & Granhag,
2012; Vrij, Granhag, Mann & Leal, 2011).
2. Points Common to Most Interrogations
Regardless of locale, good police interrogations share a num-
ber of features, such as respect for basic human rights (systematic
and rigorous reading of legal cautions), building rapport with the
interviewee (for more on the importance of interpersonal dynamics
see Holmberg & Christianson, 2002; St-Yves, Tanguay & Crépault,
2004; Vanderhallen, Vervaeke & Holmberg, 2011), listening to
the suspect’s version of events (ideally through the use of neutral
and open-ended questions), presentation of evidence (to stimulate
confession), and affording suspects the opportunity to explain
inconsistencies in their narratives and the motivation for their
crimes. While the use of strategies, deception, and persuasion is
part of the culture of interrogation in North America and else-
where, recourse to coercive methods and to promises is generally
prohibited by law and refrained from in practice
3. Preparation for an Interview with a Suspect
Planning and preparation are key to a successful interview
(Baldwin, 1992; St-Yves & Landry, 2004). In their study of the
PEACE model, Bull and Soukara (2009) found that it was prepara-
tion (the “P”) that was the most important. Good preparation
improves the quality and outcome of interviews (Walsh & Bull,
2010). It is during the preparatory stage that the interview’s objec-
tives are defined, the optimal timing of the interview is deter-
mined, and strategies to reach the stated objectives are identified.
If nothing else, investigators must ask themselves the following
questions during the preparatory stage:
1) What is known about the interviewee, and what informa-
tion about him or her does the interview seek to establish?
2) How strong is the evidence? What are the suspect’s possi-
154 INVESTIGATIVE INTERVIEWING – THE ESSENTIALS
3) What remains to be proven? How can the interview con-
tribute to the investigation?
4) What is the probable motivation for the crime?
5) What are the suspect’s possible fears (which may inhibit
The answers to these questions allow investigators to set
objectives and identify questions that will allow them to attain
these objectives. It is not always necessary to target a confession:
sometimes a contradictory or false version of events, or missing
information, can suffice. Effective interrogations establish guilt or
innocence, confirm existing information, or obtain new informa-
Good preparation also includes planning how the interviewee
will be taken into custody (time, place, manner), how the interro-
gation room is furnished (comfortable chairs for the investigators
and suspect), the positions of the investigator and others present
(other investigators, lawyer, parent, tutor, interpreter, etc.), and
what every participant’s role is (who takes notes, who asks ques-
tions, etc.). In investigations of major crimes and those involving
multiple arrests, preparation may take several hours, even days.
Despite the importance of this preparatory stage, inadequate
preparation is the most significant weakness observed in police
investigators (Baldwin, 1992, 1993). Hill and Moston (2011) found
that preparation time was practically non-existent (0-15 minutes:
46%), and that very few (4.6%) investigators devoted at least an
hour to preparation. The main reasons invoked for this lack of
preparation were workload and the limited time made available by
the investigator’s supervisor.
4. Preparation of Questions
The objective of interrogations is to collect information on
both suspects and the circumstances of the crimes they are thought
to have committed. To meet interview objectives, investigators
must prepare questions that will help them understand the sus-
pects and explore the circumstances surrounding their crimes.
Obviously, one of the goals of these interviews is also to obtain a
INTERVIEWING SUSPECTS 155
suspect’s narrative of events, free of interviewer contamination.
For this purpose, open-ended questions, such as “Tell me every-
thing that happened that day” and the use of interview protocols
such as the Cognitive Interview (Fisher & Geiselman, 1992;
Geiselman, 2012; Griffiths & Milne, 2006; Memon, Meissner &
Fraser, 2010) can both facilitate disclosure and improve credibility
The next step is the progression to more focused questions,
which allow the collection of additional detail. These generally
start with Who? Where? When? How? Why?, and if necessary may
lead to closed-ended questions such as “Was he armed?” (Griffiths
& Milne, 2006, p. 182).
The foregoing notwithstanding, investigators tend to eschew
open-ended questions, which generate more detailed answers that
are less influenced by the questions, in favour of leading or sugges-
tive ones (Griffiths & Milne, 2006). Schreiber, Compo, Hyman,
Gregory, and Fisher (2012) observed that, on average, investiga-
tors asked 64 questions per interview, most of which (59%) were
yes/no questions; in descending order, the remaining questions
were forced-choice (26%), open (11%), and multiple choice (4%).
Most interviews (87%) primarily comprised of leading or sugges-
tive questions. Inappropriate questions were more frequent when
the investigator had already decided that the suspect was guilty,
regardless of the evidence (Moston, Stephenson & Williamson,
1992). Such questions not only are counter-productive but also are
highly likely to contaminate a suspect’s account.
5. The Stages of a Police Interrogation
Interrogation tactics may be classified as appropriate or inap-
propriate, reflecting legal considerations and established ethical
guidelines. There is clear consensus about the inappropriateness
of some tactics, notably coercive methods, including intimidation.
This reflects not only legal and ethical considerations but also
the increased likelihood of false confessions associated with such
tactics (see Kassin & Gudjonsson, 2004; Meissner et al., 2012).
Equally, there is consensus about the appropriateness of tactics
such as the use of open-ended questions, and the confrontation of
suspects with inconsistencies and evidence. However, the use of
156 INVESTIGATIVE INTERVIEWING – THE ESSENTIALS
themes (suggested scenarios), the maximization or minimization
of the crime, and the presentation of false evidence are judicially
and ethically controversial—while legally permissible within cer-
tain jurisdictions, research suggests that these tactics may pro-
duce false confessions (Kassin et al., 2010). Therefore, the rarity of
interrogation-related miscarriages of justice since the introduc-
tion of video recording demonstrates that some “persuasive” tac-
tics can be used effectively and safely (St-Yves, 2009).
This section will review the stages common to effective mod-
els of interrogation, with an emphasis on suspects’ psychological
processes rather than the technical details of the interrogation.
The following seven steps will be described:
1) Greeting the suspect and informing of rights
2) Building rapport and gathering information / questioning
3) Obtaining the suspect’s version of events
4) Presenting evidence
5) Exploring the suspect’s motivation and overcoming his or
6) Authenticating the confession
Step 1. Greeting the Suspect and Informing of Rights
First contact with the suspect has a decisive effect on the
success of investigative interviews (Shepherd & Kite, 1988;
St-Yves, Tanguay & Crépault, 2004). Historically, interrogation
rooms were small rooms with only a few chairs (the least comfort-
able of which was reserved for the suspect) and a small table on
which the investigators could take notes. Today, however, an
increasing number of interview rooms are friendly places that are,
in particular, more comfortable for suspects. The period of first
contact allows investigators to ask interviewees about their gen-
eral condition and address any concerns they may have following
INTERVIEWING SUSPECTS 157
their arrest (e.g., plans that have been disrupted). If possible,
interviewees’ concerns should be allayed before commencing the
interview. This also facilitates attempts at establishing rapport.
It is essential to inform suspects of how the interview will
play out and of their rights, especially their right to remain silent
and their right to legal counsel. Investigators must not only advise
suspects in due form of their rights, but must ensure that these
rights are fully understood. This is especially important when sus-
pects are minors, or mentally or intellectually vulnerable. Sus-
pects younger than 15 years do not always fully comprehend their
rights and the consequences of their interrogation-related deci-
sions (Grisso, 1980, 1981; Kostelnik & Reppucci, 2009; Redlich,
Silverman & Steiner, 2003; Viljoen & Roesch, 2005; Viljoen,
Klaver & Roesch, 2005), and tend not to avail themselves of
their rights (Courvoisier, 2013; Viljoen, Klaver & Roesch, 2005).
Furthermore, they are more sensitive to the stress surrounding
interrogations, which not only affects their judgement (Furby &
Beyth-Marom, 1992; Spear, 2000), but also renders them more
suggestible (Singh & Gudjonsson, 1992), ultimately increasing
their vulnerability to providing a false confession (Gudjonsson,
2003). For all this, however, police often fail to recognize this
challenge and treat minors similar to that of adults during interro-
gations, using the same tactics, with little regard for issues of cog-
nitive development (Meyer & Reppucci, 2007).
Police often consider a suspect’s recourse to legal counsel
an obstacle to cooperation (Leiken, 1970; Walsh, 1982), in part
because some studies have reported that suspects who avail them-
selves of the right to remain silent or their right to legal counsel
are less likely to confess (Deslauriers-Varin & St-Yves, 2006;
Leo, 1996; Moston, Stephenson & Williamson, 1992; Phillips &
Brown, 1998). However, Moston, Stephenson, and Williamson
(1992) observed that suspects who availed themselves of the right
to remain silent were more likely to be convicted than were those
who denied their guilt during interrogation. The right to remain
silent is thus not always to the suspect’s advantage.
Although a suspect may avail himself or herself of the right to
remain silent, investigators do have, in some jurisdictions, the
right to ask him or her questions—to which the suspect is free to
answer or remain silent. But it is human nature, a question of
habit, a reflex, to answer questions. This ritualistic response
158 INVESTIGATIVE INTERVIEWING – THE ESSENTIALS
imposes structure on conversation, and explains why individuals
respond spontaneously when asked their name, age, and many
other questions that establish the interpersonal dynamic that con-
stitutes communication (see Boyd & Heritage, 2006; Schiffrin,
Step 2. Building Rapport and Gathering Information /
Interpersonal dynamics are extremely important in investi-
gative interviews. Building rapport with interviewees has a posi-
tive impact on the conduct of the interview and on its outcome (see
Abbe & Brandon, 2012, 2014; Holmberg & Christianson, 2002;
St-Yves, Tanguay & Crépault, 2004; Vanderhallen, Vervaeke &
Holmberg, 2011). To build rapport, investigators may rely upon
certain principles of persuasion (Cialdini, 2009), such as attempts
to develop liking by establishing similarities (“common ground”).
This approach allows investigators to establish familiarity at the
outset of an interview, which facilitates the building of rapport
with the suspect, and orients the investigator towards the person,
not the crime (see Williamson, 2007). Examples of common ground
include recreational and sporting activities, and personal situa-
tions. Establishing similarities is the embodiment of Byrne’s
(1971) attraction paradigm: we are influenced more strongly by
those we like than by those we do not. Sympathy may be elicited by
physical beauty, attitudes (inclination to listen and understand,
respect) and familiarity, and compliments and praise generally
accelerate the attraction process (Kacmar, Delery & Ferris, 1992).
Disclosing personal information to the suspect (“self disclosure”),
such as prior experiences or preferences, can also facilitate rapport
(Vallano & Schreiber Compo, 2011) by establishing the social
influence principle of reciprocity (Cialdini, 2009).
The Power of Touch
The use of touch in investigative interviews is a delicate and
controversial issue (Abbe & Brandon, 2012, 2014). Interviewees
may perceive touching as a form of manipulation, coercion, or dom-
inance (Guéguen, 2004; Major & Heslin, 1982; Storrs & Kleinke,
1990), especially if they are suspects. While touching may be spon-
taneous and sincere, it may also be strategic and calculated. In all
cases, however, its goal is to establish proximity and familiarity
INTERVIEWING SUSPECTS 159
with the interviewee. A number of studies have reported that
touching considerably increases the probability of acceding to a
request (Keinke, 1977). In a study conducted in a supermarket,
Smith, Gier, and Willis (1982) observed that 19% of participants
who tasted a sample of pizza bought the product—but that this per-
centage doubled (37%) if the participant had not only tasted the
pizza but also been touched on the arm by a demonstrator.
Immediacy Behaviors and Active Listening
When engaging with a suspect, it is important to display
attention and engagement. Immediacy behaviors help create a
feeling of closeness with the person being interviewed. These
“immediacy behaviors” can include verbal behaviors such as call-
ing the suspect by his or her first name, using the pronoun “we”,
and non verbal behaviors such as facial expressions, orienting your
body towards the suspect, engaging in eye contact, and leaning for-
ward (Abbe & Brandon, 2014). Cultural norms should always be
considered, and behavioral displays should appear non-threaten-
ing to the person being interviewed. Verbal behaviors that signal
active listening should also be used, including encouragements
(“O.K.”, “I see”, “hum hum”), summarizing what the suspect has
just said, also called reformulating, or repeating back a subject’s
responses (Vecchi, Van Hasselt & Romano, 2005). This indicates to
the suspect that the investigator is really listening. Restricting
interruptions when the suspect is speaking will also signal respect
and increase information that is elicited (Fisher & Geiselman,
Asking Pertinent Questions and Anticipating Answers
To collect information, one must ask questions. But before
getting to the heart of the subject and asking the suspect for his or
her version of events, investigators should ask indirect questions
related to the events. In the case of a shaken baby, for example, the
investigator may ask the suspect about the birth, health, and
sleeping habits of the infant (the victim), who took care of the
infant, etc. Such questions can signal interest, empathy, and
respect. Sometimes, the answers to these questions are enough to
form an idea of what happened. Investigators may also ask ques-
tions intended to validate other information, or foreclose the possi-
bility of dubious explanations by the suspect, either during his or
160 INVESTIGATIVE INTERVIEWING – THE ESSENTIALS
her narrative or when confronted by evidence. For example, if the
suspect answers “Who came into contact with the child that day”
with “Only me”, he or she cannot subsequently allege that someone
else caused the injuries to the child. It is only after obtaining all
these answers that the investigator should question the suspect
about his or her version of events: “Tell me everything you did that
day, from getting up until contacting emergency services to report
the child’s difficulty breathing.”
Behavioural Observation Questions
Inbau et al. (2001) suggest investigators proceed to behav-
ioural observation questions once the suspect has provided his or
her version of events. These questions are usually personalized
and prepared in advance. They are presented progressively, from
questions that are general and non-accusatory to questions that
directly target the suspect. For example: “In your view, what type
of person could commit an act like this?”; “In your view, how do you
think that person feels today about what he or she did?”; “What
should happen to that person?”; “Do you think it’s important for
that person to be given an opportunity to explain themselves?” The
goal of these questions is typically to elicit a reaction, either verbal
or nonverbal, and evaluate the suspect’s answers in order to deter-
mine whether he or she committed the crime. The answers and
reactions to these questions may be interesting and may provide
investigators with insight about the suspect, the suspect’s motiva-
tion, and the suspect’s fear of consequences. They do not, however,
allow investigators to objectively evaluate whether the suspect is
telling the truth, let alone whether he or she committed the crime.
Kassin and Fong (1999) observed that individuals trained in ver-
bal and non-verbal cues to deception associated with the Reid tech-
nique were less accurate than untrained students in detecting
falsehood, but more confident of their assessment. Meissner and
Kassin (2002) further observed that investigators trained in such
cues to deception were more likely to demonstrate a bias towards
perceiving deception (or “guilt”) on the part of the suspect (see also,
Kassin, Meissner & Norwick, 2005; Meissner & Kassin, 2004). A
direct assessment of the Behavioral Analysis Interview (based on
the work of Horvath, Jayne & Buckley, 1994) by Vrij, Mann, and
Fisher (2006) demonstrated that the behaviour of liars and truth
tellers actually contradicted what was expected based upon that
proposed by Inbau et al. (2001). While police officers estimate that
INTERVIEWING SUSPECTS 161
they can detect falsehood in 77% of cases (Kassin et al., 2007), the
success rate of professionals is rarely better than chance (see Bond
& DePaulo, 2006; Vrij, 2008).
Usually, the series of behavioural observation questions cul-
minates in a question about the suspect’s involvement in the crime
under investigation. This question, commonly known as the “bait
question”, is intended to strengthen the perceived weight of evi-
dence and seed doubt in the suspect about errors he or she may
have committed or about compromising elements. This question is
presented in a strictly hypothetical manner, and while the presen-
tation of false evidence is permissible in the United States, the use
of non-existent or fabricated evidence may render a confession
inadmissible as evidence in other countries (R. v. Oickle, para. 61).
This manipulation of the perception of the evidence (exaggeration
or false representation) is strongly criticized by some researchers
given empirical data suggesting that the use of such tactics can
increase the probability of a false confession (Kassin et al., 2010;
Kassin & Kiechel, 1996; Kassin & Gudjonsson, 2004; Meissner et
al., 2012; Perillo & Kassin, 2011; Redlich & Goodman 2003).
Step 3. Obtaining the Suspect’s Version of Events
The objective of obtaining a suspect’s version of events is to
discover new investigative elements, offer the suspect the opportu-
nity to explain himself or herself, and give the suspect the opportu-
nity to prove his or her innocence—which may indeed be the case
(St-Yves & Landry, 2004, p. 19). If the suspect committed the crime
under investigation, his or her version of events may corroborate
and elucidate the evidence. Obtaining the suspect’s version of
events is a critical moment of the interrogation, the one suspects
fear the most. This is the suspect’s opportunity to tell the truth,
deny the facts, or remain silent. Suspects who have committed no
crime will tend to feel that telling the truth will exonerate them
(Hartwig, Granhag & Strömwall, 2007). Paying close attention to
the suspect’s version of events will allow investigators to remain
open, and less vulnerable to preconceived ideas (Ask & Granhag,
2007, p. 564).
The way the question is formulated has a direct impact on the
suspect’s answer. An open-ended question (e.g. “Tell me about
what happened that day.”) will elicit a detailed answer, while a
forced-choice question (e.g. “Did you kill that person?”) will elicit a
162 INVESTIGATIVE INTERVIEWING – THE ESSENTIALS
brief yes/no answer (see Griffiths & Milne, 2006). Questions that
target the suspect’s motivations (e.g. “Why did it happen?”) or emo-
tions (“How do you feel sitting here now?”) often will elicit an emo-
tional response from the suspect. Use of the cognitive interview in
eliciting a cooperative statement from a suspect can be quite effec-
tive in increasing the amount of information that suspects can
recall from memory about an event (e.g., an alibi or employment
history), and facilitate judgments of truth and deception when
determining culpability (see Geiselman, 2012; Memon et al., 2010).
At this stage, questions are often improvised and formulated
with no regard to their impact, which leads to problematic phras-
ing. The most common errors are leading or suggestive questions
(“Are you normally aggressive when you drink?”), ill-timed confir-
matory or targeted questions (“Where were you last night, with
whom, and how long did you stay?”), and forced-choice questions
(“Did you hit or push that woman?”). Research suggests that inves-
tigators should maintain an open and investigative mindset that
limits the presumption of guilt to the extent possible—biases
towards perceiving guilt can lead to a process of behavioral confir-
mation in which presumptive and leading questions, and aggres-
sive interrogation tactics produce behavioral reactions in the
suspect that confirm an investigators’ presumptions. Such reac-
tions are independent of the factual guilt or innocence of the
subject (Kassin, Goldstein & Savitsky, 2003) and in the case of
innocent suspects such a process of behavioral confirmation is
more likely to produce a false confession (Narchet, Meissner &
As this step is the turning point of the interrogation, and
often the moment the suspect fears the most, the suspect may
rather than give his or her (true or false) version of events. If the
suspect does provide a version of events, the investigator must ask
for details about anything that is not perfectly clear, follow-up any
contradictions, and analyse the suspect’s statement closely in
order to corroborate it.
Step 4. Presenting Evidence
Although obtaining a confession is dependent on many fac-
tors (Gudjonsson, 2003; St-Yves, 2004a), the suspect’s perception
of the police’s evidence is the overriding one (Cassell & Hayman,
INTERVIEWING SUSPECTS 163
1996; Deslauriers-Varin, Lussier & St-Yves, 2011; Gudjonsson,
2007; Gudjonsson & Petursson, 1991; Kebbell, Hurren & Roberts,
2006; Leo, 2008; Moston, Stephenson & Williamson, 1992; Sellers
& Kebbell, 2009). Williamson (1990) reported that two out of three
suspects (66.7%) admitted their crime when the evidence appeared
strong, compared to one in three (36.4%) when the evidence was
perceived as modest, and one in ten (9.9%) when there was little or
no evidence. Gudjonsson et al. observed that almost 70% of sus-
pects admitted that they would never have confessed had they not
been suspected by the police, and 55-60% confessed because they
were sure that the police possessed enough evidence to charge
and convict them (Gudjonsson & Bownes, 1992; Gudjonsson &
Petursson, 1991; Sigurdsson & Gudjonsson, 1994). Deslauriers-
Varin and St-Yves (2006) observed that suspects who perceived the
evidence against them as relatively strong were almost twice as
likely to confess (31.4% vs. 55.6%). Suspects understand that
denial is pointless in the face of overwhelming evidence, and that
there are only two possibilities open to them: remain silent or give
a version of events that allows them to explain what happened and
obtain the best possible outcome under the circumstances.
Because the strength of the evidence influences the decision
to confess, investigators use a variety of strategies to present it.
For example, the investigative process, or the actual evidence (fin-
gerprints, DNA results, eyewitness accounts), may be described in
detail (see St-Yves & Lépine, 2012). The stronger the suspect
believes the evidence is, the greater the chance of obtaining a con-
fession. In the absence of sufficient evidence, investigators have
resorted to employing halo effects in which they exaggerate the
strength of evidence or allude to the collection of evidence that will
confirm the guilt of the suspect – the impact of such a presentation
in leading to false confessions, however, undermines the value of
this approach (see Perillo & Kassin, 2011).
It is not always easy to present the evidence in a detailed, rig-
orous, and clear manner. However, this is one of the most impor-
tant steps of the interrogation, and the way this is done will
determine whether the suspect cooperates or not (Deslauriers-
Varin, Lussier & St-Yves, 2011; Moston, Stephenson & William-
son, 1992). The art of presenting the evidence to the suspect is the
key to the whole interrogation. It is the evidence, not the investiga-
tor, that should be confrontational. To this end, it is necessary to
164 INVESTIGATIVE INTERVIEWING – THE ESSENTIALS
master the evidence, resist the temptation to present it too early,
and present it to the suspect as an explanation.
The impact of this key factor, well known to the police, is why
investigators tend to present evidence as early as possible (Kassin
et al., 2007). Very often, evidence is presented at the outset of the
interrogation, in an accusatory manner. This approach is typical of
interrogations in the United States—Leo (1996) reported observ-
ing it in 85% of cases. The different approaches used in the United
States and the United Kingdom may reflect different objectives,
with American interrogations oriented towards obtaining confes-
sions and United Kingdom ones oriented towards obtaining infor-
mation (Gudjonsson, 2003; Meissner et al., 2012).
However, many recent studies have demonstrated the value
of presenting the evidence later in the interview (Baldwin, 1992;
Bull & Milne, 2004; Hartwig, Granhag, Strömwall & Vrij, 2005),
and doing so in a sequential manner with increasing specificity
(Bull, 2014; Granhag et al., 2013; Luke et al., 2013). A later presen-
tation increases the chances of obtaining a confession (Sellers &
Kebbell, 2009) and facilitates attempts at assessing credibility
(Vrij & Granhag, 2012; Vrij et al., 2011). In Yeschke’s (2003) view,
investigators should first build rapport with the suspect (by dem-
onstrating fairness and compassion), rather than directly confront
the suspect with evidence, which may hinder rapport. According to
Jordan et al. (2012), revealing evidence later does not penalize the
innocent, but does trap the guilty, as liars become more inconsis-
tent than those telling the truth. Granhag et al. have suggested
progressively increasing the specificity of the evidence presented,
beginning with vague descriptions and building to specifics. This
method leads to more diagnostic determinations of guilt or inno-
cence when statement-evidence consistency is examined (Granhag
et al., 2013; Luke et al., 2013).
Another argument in favour of presenting evidence later is
that this prevents the suspect from using previously presented evi-
dence to fabricate a self-serving account of events (Sellers &
Kebbell, 2009). Guilty suspects may provide accounts that eventu-
ally prove incompatible with the facts (Hartwig et al., 2005). Fur-
thermore, later presentation of evidence allows the confession to
be authenticated against facts not yet revealed by the investiga-
tors (Inbau, Reid, Buckley & Jayne, 2005; Powell & Amsbary,
INTERVIEWING SUSPECTS 165
Investigators should also consider the reliability of the evi-
dence in-hand: for example, witness testimony may be inaccurate
due to errors of memory, and facts and technical evidence may be
misinterpreted (even in the forensic science arena). A suspect con-
fronted by such inaccuracies may feel tricked, and become wary,
resentful, and uncooperative. Because investigators’ persuasive-
ness is highly dependent on their credibility (Palmiotto, 2004)
and because evidentiary errors may affect credibility (Sellers &
Kebbell, 2009), investigators must ensure that the facts they have
at their disposal are reliable. They must therefore be prudent and
not go beyond the real limits of the evidence.
Step 5. Explore the Suspect’s Motivation and Overcome
His or Her Fears
To influence the suspect’s decision making, investigators
present elements of the investigation that suggest that the suspect
committed the crime. Often, suspects give their versions of events
and explain themselves because they believe that they have
no other option. And it is through these explanations that they
attempt to minimize their crimes, render them more acceptable,
and save face. Once a suspect understands that the police possess
evidence, he or she seeks to minimize the consequences—often by
explaining his or her motivation.
Investigators often attempt to facilitate confession by sug-
gesting explanations for the suspect’s behavior, e.g., drug con-
sumption, financial problems, psychological trauma, etc. These
may be completely hypothetical or based on the suspect’s own
words during the interrogation. Inbau et al. (2001) term this
approach a “theme”. Such tactics rely on psychological defense
mechanisms such as minimization (reduction of the frequency or
intensity of acts), projection (attribute blame), and rationalisation
(deny criminal intent), leading a suspect to reduce his or her
responsibility, shed blame on the victim or on society, etc., in a
manner that renders reality less threatening, less painful. Unfor-
tunately, such techniques that maximize or minimize conse-
quences facilitate not only true confessions by the guilty but also
false confessions by the innocent (Horgan, Russano, Meissner
& Evans, 2012; Klaver, Lee & Rose, 2008; Russano, Meissner,
Narchet & Kassin, 2005). Appleby, Hasel, Shlosberg, and Kassin
(2009) found that 80% of individuals providing a false confession
166 INVESTIGATIVE INTERVIEWING – THE ESSENTIALS
supplied a motive for the crime, 65% minimized or excused their
involvement, 40% expressed remorse, and 25% apologized. The
more elaborate the confession, the more credible they appeared—
despite the fact that they were all provided by innocent individuals
(Appleby et al., 2009). Together, this research suggests that great
care should be taken in the method of exploring a suspect’s motiva-
tions and overcoming objections.
Why Before How
It is human nature to try to explain things. Suspects often
find it easier to say why they committed a crime than how they
committed it (St-Yves, 2013). This is particularly true for so-called
“shameful” crimes, such as sexual crimes and child abuse. A father
will more easily confess to having been tired and acting impul-
sively simply to quiet his baby than describe the way he actually
shook the infant. The why is thus often the gateway to the confes-
sion. The how subsequently allows investigators to corroborate
previously obtained facts and confirm the authenticity of the con-
and the presence of overwhelming evidence, some suspects persist
in denying the facts or refuse to confess. The main reason for this
resistance is likely a fear of consequences. In fact, everyone inter-
rogated by the police fears losing something if he or she is found to
be guilty or admits to the crime (“If I confess, I may lose every-
thing...”). As the consequences are usually proportional to the
gravity of the crime, the more serious the crime, the lower the con-
fession rate (Moston, Stephenson & Williamson, 1992; St-Yves,
2002). The nature of the crime may also inhibit confession: for
example, sexual crimes are among the most difficult to admit
(Holmberg & Christianson, 2002; St-Yves, 2002, 2004d). As long as
these inhibiting factors (fears) are present, the suspect will proba-
bly continue to deny everything or refuse to confess, even if the
police present solid evidence.
There are two primary types of factors that inhibit confes-
sions: real (sometimes termed “concrete”) consequences, and per-
sonal consequences (Gudjonsson & Bownes, 1992; Gudjonsson &
Petursson, 1991; Sigurdsson & Gudjonsson, 1994). The inhibitory
INTERVIEWING SUSPECTS 167
effect of these factors is so strong that suspects who experience
guilt and believe that the police possess sufficient evidence may
nevertheless persist in denying their guilt or remaining silent.
Real (or concrete) consequences are the eventual conse-
quences suspects consider as they are interrogated for a crime; one
of the most common is fear of penal sanctions (Gudjonsson, 2003),
including the loss of liberty (imprisonment) and, in some cases, the
death penalty. Suspects with no previous experience with the legal
system may fear acquiring a criminal record and, especially, the
attendant consequences, such as loss of employment or difficulty
finding employment. In general, the more serious the crime,
the more severe the punishment (Esyenck & Gudjonsson, 1989).
Suspects whose confession incriminates others may fear retribu-
tion—which may be more frightening than any legal sanctions.
Other feared consequences of confession include alienation of
those close to the suspect (spouse, children, family, friends), loss of
employment, and financial loss (insurance premiums, fines or
refunds, legal fees, etc.). All of these are potentially quite real,
which is why they may inhibit confession. They are, nevertheless,
not immediate, and suspects may hope that those close to them will
forgive them, that their employer will be understanding, that the
judge will show clemency.
Personal consequences are often more feared than concrete
ones, as they are immediate and affect the suspect’s integrity and
self-esteem. As soon as a suspect admits his or her crime, he or she
loses face—initially in his or her own eyes, and then in the eyes of
those close to him or her, starting with the investigator. This
is particularly true in the case of sexual crimes (see Holmberg
& Christianson, 2002). In some cases, investigators’ attitudes
(namely if the suspect feels judged or fears others’ judgment) may
exert an inhibitory effect (St-Yves, 2004b).
To overcome suspects’ fears it is first necessary to identify
and anticipate them. For example, a person who stole from his or
168 INVESTIGATIVE INTERVIEWING – THE ESSENTIALS
her employer will no doubt fear loss of employment; a person who
sexually abused a child will fear losing those around him or her
(especially if he or she is a parent), and, if applicable, his or her
position as a teacher. Many suspects also fear losing their liberty
(i.e., imprisonment), their reputation, etc. Investigators may
attempt to overcome these personal fears by engaging in positive
self-affirmations with suspects, helping them preserve part of
their self-esteem (i.e., save face) and integrity, and allowing them
to find a more “acceptable” way of confessing. Investigators can
directly ask the suspect what he or she fears: “What are you afraid
of? Are you afraid of going to prison? Losing your family? What
other people think of you?” Overcoming such inhibitions require
naming the fear, talking about it, and exploring the suspect’s
(entirely normal) apprehensions. Importantly, investigators must
take care not to minimize, explicitly or implicitly, the potential
consequences of the crime. In addition to being legally and morally
problematic, this approach can lead the innocent to confess
(Horgan et al., 2012).
Step 6. Authenticate the Confession
Unfortunately, a confession is often used to compensate for
the inadequacy of material evidence (Baldwin, 1993). The pressure
exerted on suspects is generally inversely proportional to the qual-
ity of the evidence—a context that has great potential to bring
about false confessions (Kassin, 2005). Confession also sometimes
allows investigators to know and understand the suspect’s mens
rea (criminal intent), which, in Aristotle’s words, “creates guilt and
crime”, and which, in Jean le Rond d’Alembert’s words, “must at
least provide an excuse for the act”. Confession also provides pro-
tection against the wrong person being charged. It is only when
confession replaces the rest of the investigation that the likelihood
of false confessions increases (Mucchielli & Clément, 2006, p. 270).
While false confessions are believed to be rare (Cassell, 1999;
St-Yves, 2004e), a surprising number of such cases have been docu-
mented, particularly in the United States (see Drizin & Leo, 2004).
It is therefore important to never forget the dramatic and irrevers-
ible consequences of such errors. Suspects who make false confes-
sions are not invariably mentally vulnerable. Sometimes they are
simply tired of being questioned, and believe that they will have an
opportunity to recant later or that their confession cannot be used
as evidence in court. Moreover, some people believe that they can
INTERVIEWING SUSPECTS 169
go home after they confess, even if their confession is false (Thom-
sen, 2004). False confessions occur more frequently in the course of
long interrogations (Leo & Ofshe, 1998).
In general, false confessions are associated with coercive
methods or some forms of psychological manipulations (Kassin et
al., 2010). The only way to ensure that a confession is authentic is
to have evidence, know the truth, or be able to corroborate the sus-
pect’s version of events by independent evidence. Of course, the
suspect’s version of events must be free of interviewer contamina-
tion and include points that only the perpetrator of the crime in
question would know (see Garrett, 2011).
According to Leo and Ofshe (1998), investigators should ask
three questions to determine the authenticity of a confession:
1. Did the confession lead to the discovery of evidence that
was previously unknown to police? For example, did it
lead to the discovery of the weapon used in the crime or
the location of stolen objects?
2. Did the confession contain details that were unusual and
not known to the general public? For example, did the sus-
pect explain why and how he carved a cross on the victim’s
stomach with a knife?
3. Did the suspect provide a precise description of unpub-
lished details of the crime scene? For example, was he or
she able to describe the clothes the victim wore, or the
room (which he or she could not have visited previously)
in which the crime was committed? It is necessary to
ensure that the confession is not due to contamination,
which is to say that the suspect had not learned of details
of the crime scene through a third party (e.g., media,
police, photographs, another person, including the real
perpetrator; see Ofshe & Leo, 1997; Leo & Ofshe, 1998).
As mentioned by Cassell (1999), proving the innocence of a
suspect may be as difficult as proving his or her guilt.
Step 7. Concluding
The end of an interrogation is often highly emotional. Sus-
pects who have confessed know that they must now face justice and
170 INVESTIGATIVE INTERVIEWING – THE ESSENTIALS
the consequences of their acts. They are anxious about the next
steps, especially if they have no experience with the legal system.
Investigators will have obtained what they sought, but must pre-
serve the rapport they built during the interview. An important
part of preserving rapport is explaining to suspects the legal proce-
dures to come and answering any questions they may have. It is as
important to leave a good final impression as it is to make a good
initial one: it may become necessary to meet with a suspect again,
or the suspect may decide to contact the investigator to provide fur-
ther information about the crime—or even about other crimes.
In this final stage, the interviewer must do everything possi-
ble to allow the suspect to preserve or restore his or her dignity.
Sometimes that is all he or she has left.
6. Control Mechanisms
There are two main control mechanisms to ensure the quality
of interrogations and reduce the likelihood of false confessions: the
presence of a lawyer and audiovisual recording. The presence of a
lawyer during the interrogation ensures that the suspect’s rights
are respected and that the interview is conducted appropriately. It
should be noted, however, that the role of lawyers varies consider-
ably from country to country (see St-Yves, Sellie & Vuidard, 2013)
and their presence is not always systematic or free.
Audiovisual recording avoids miscarriages of justice, by
reducing the number of false confession, or at least facilitating
their identification. An increasing number of countries have a pol-
icy of recording interrogations. Recording has no negative effect on
confession rate, and recorded interviews appear to generate many
more answers and provide more incriminating information than
handwritten statements (Geller, 1992; Grant, 1987). In addition to
providing a verbatim record of the interrogation4, audiovisual
recording encourages investigators to conduct interrogations of
INTERVIEWING SUSPECTS 171
4. The Alaska Supreme Court, in Stephan (1985), enumerated several other benefits,
notably: 1) Recording compensates for the inaccuracy of human memory and the
fact that people forget specific facts or reconstruct and interpret past events differ-
ently; 2) Recording helps lower and appeal courts determine the truth (L’enre-
gistrement audiovisuel des interrogatoires des suspects ou des accusés: Rapport
better quality5while protecting them from unjustified criticism
(Kassin, Kukucka, Laws & DeCarlo, in press; Pitt, Spiers, Dietz &
Dvoskin, 1999). This both decreases the number of false confessions
and increases the value of confessions as evidence. Several courts
have noted that “recording provides an objective record which judges
may use to assess the free and voluntary nature of a confession, the
circumstances in which a confession was made, and the content of the
confession, in place of subjective and biased statements by the pro-
tagonists” (L’enregistrement audiovisuel des interrogatoires des
suspects ou des accusés: Rapport d’étape, 1996, p. 51). Audiovisual
recording protects the innocent, ensures the admissibility of
legitimate confessions, shields investigators against allegations of
coercion, and provides a record of the climate in which the interro-
gation was conducted, as well as the attitudes and nonverbal lan-
guage of the protagonists (see Sullivan, 2010). It is an effective
means of preventing miscarriages of justice (Kassin, Drizin,
Grisso, Gudjonsson, Leo & Redlich, 2010), and one of the most
reliable records of the conduct of interrogation.
Although evidence is the most important element in a crimi-
nal investigation, the police do not always have enough evidence to
charge or convict perpetrators. In fact, this situation is the norm,
not the exception. Evidence therefore often relies on testimony...
including the suspect’s.
This chapter has shown how police interrogations are com-
plex affairs fraught with legal and ethical issues. As we have seen,
today’s interrogation techniques rely on a sound understanding of
the factors that influence suspects’ decision making. Furthermore,
the application of best practices not only improves the outcome of
suspect interviews but also considerably reduces the likelihood of
It is of course true that the quest for confession comprises
some risks: of these, the most important is the temptation to seek a
172 INVESTIGATIVE INTERVIEWING – THE ESSENTIALS
5. The Minnesota Supreme Court, in Scales (1994), also enumerated advantages of
recording, including: 1) The reduction of the number of challenges related to cau-
tions and recanting; 2) Improvement of the professionalism of law and order person-
nel (L’enregistrement audiovisuel des interrogatoires des suspects ou des accusés:
Rapport d’étape, 1996).
scapegoat rather than the truth. But without this quest for con-
fession, many criminals would never have been convicted and
the truth would remain forever unknown (see Cassell, 1999;
Deslauriers-Varin & St-Yves, 2006; Inbau, Reid, Buckley & Jayne,
2001; Phillips & Brown, 1998; Stephenson & Moston, 1994). To
better manage the risks associated with police interrogations, it is
important to thoroughly understand the psychological processes
that lead a person to confess. To this end, investigators must build
rapport with suspects, as this increases suspects’ inclination to
cooperate. Investigators must also provide opportunities for sus-
pects to explain their acts or deny their guilt. Investigators can
explore—within the limits prescribed by law—the reasons for the
suspect’s criminal acts. All this must be conducted in a manner
that is non-confrontational from start to finish—regardless of the
Although confession is no longer the preeminent form of
evidence, interrogations do result in many crimes being solved.
The methods used to interrogate suspects are numerous and often
controversial. It is for this reason that the courts increasingly
demand that a witness (lawyer, recording) be present during these
interviews. Audiovisual recording is becoming more common as a
means to ensure that the interview is conducted appropriately and
as a method to reduce the likelihood of false confessions and atten-
dant miscarriages of justice. While interrogations cannot always
uncover the truth, audiovisual recording at least allows the truth
to be known about the means used to obtain a confession.
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