The process of admission interviews: The four phases of interviews
No matter how the interviewer chooses to obtain an admission from a suspect, there will be four distinct phases to the admission interview process.
■ Reducing Resistance—The interviewer chooses some method to reduce the suspect’s resistance to making an
admission of involvement. Depending on the style chosen, this could be done with a systematic presentation of
evidence, use of an emotional appeal, or interviewer persistence.
■ Obtaining the Admission—The second part of every admission-gathering interview is obtaining a first statement
of involvement from the guilty party. This is the first acknowledgement by the suspect that he or she is involved in
the act under investigation. This is not a confession, but merely the first admission that confirms the interviewer’s
assertion that the suspect was involved in the incident.
■ Developing the Admission—This section of the admission interview expands the suspect’s admission into a
legally acceptable confession that answers the investigative questions of who, what, where, when, how, and
why. This also allows the interviewer opportunity to explore other areas of activity in which the suspect may be
■ Closing the Interview—The interviewer reduces the suspect’s oral admission and confession to a permanent
form, either written or recorded, and has it witnessed.
Constructing an Admission-Gathering Interview
The first phase of the interview, reducing resistance, is a vital component in assisting the interviewer’s likelihood of obtaining the truth from the guilty subject. The focus of the Wicklander-Zulawski (W-Z) non-confrontational interview process is designed to reduce resistance by encouraging the subject to make a rational decision to confess, providing truthful statements, in many cases without making a denial, to substantiate their admissions.
Managing the reducing resistance phase properly will often help the interviewer to transition through the
final three phases much easier. But how should the admission-gathering interview be approached?
The interviewer should make good business decisions when determining the best approach, as there are many variables to consider. The interviewer should consider other possible aspects of further case development and the ultimate goal of the interview when choosing an approach. The investigator should have clearly established the elements of the incident or policy violation through a careful investigation. The interviewer should also understand the strengths and weaknesses of the enquiry to establish when or if direct evidence should be used or even if it should be revealed at all.
The next consideration is special personnel or legal requirements necessary to close the investigation. Is the interviewer acting as an agent of the Police or working independently for an organisation? Is there a union? Are there internal political issues within the organisation that need to be addressed? The geographical location should even be considered, since different countries have unique legal aspects that the interviewer should review before beginning an admission-gathering interview. Whether the ultimate goal is to prosecute, or simply terminate, may dictate some of the case closure methods as well. There are obviously many other factors that should be considered during the preparation phase in addition to those mentioned here.
Approaching the Suspect
The interviewer now begins to look closely at the person suspected of being involved in the issue under investigation. Is the individual aware of the investigation, or has the enquiry been concealed from them? Awareness of an investigation may increase an individual’s resistance to making an admission or decision to tell the truth.
For example, a store was burgled sometime after closing. The suspect vehicle left tyre tracks near the loading dock revealing the tyres were mismatched. The investigators determined that there was only one delivery made to the store that day. During the interview with the delivery driver, investigators asked if he returned to the store a second time on the day of the burglary. In response to the question, the driver turned red, averted his eyes, and delayed his response to the investigator’s question. The physical response of the suspect was so pronounced that the investigators asked only a few more questions and concluded the interview. The investigators then checked the suspect’s vehicle and determined its tyres matched those left at the scene. The investigation then focused on the delivery driver. The driver was ultimately convicted of the burglary, but never confessed to the crime.
Selecting an opportune time to interview may give an advantage in obtaining the admission to the interviewer. In the case just cited, the time to begin the non-confrontational admission-gathering interview of the suspect was when he first realised the possibility his involvement may have been discovered. The investigators certainly did not err in wanting to gather additional evidence before they confronted the suspect, but the trade-off was letting the driver know that he was the focus of the investigation.
In most investigations, there will be a time that the suspect will be more susceptible to a confession. Unfortunately for the investigator, that time may arrive before the investigation is complete. The investigator has to make a decision whether the value of possible additional evidence will outweigh the suspect’s current susceptibility to making a confession. If the investigators had confronted the driver based on his verbal and physical responses even though the investigation was not complete, they would not have lost the subsequent tyre evidence, and may have gained a substantiated admission because of the suspect’s momentary confusion.
Problems with Factual Versus Non-Confrontational Interviews
The question could be asked, “How could we confront someone without proof?” You cannot, if you plan to use a factual approach, which involves building the case for the suspect’s guilt with the evidence accumulated during the investigation.
However, there are several problems with a factual approach to an admission-gathering interview. First, the presentation of evidence may identify the weaknesses in the investigation. Second, deciding to present evidence to a suspect when they are still physically and emotionally strong often results in the suspect contradicting the evidence’s meaning or relevance. Third, in the small number of cases where there might exist the possibility of a false confession, the subject’s knowledge of the evidence could contribute to a convincing statement from the suspect, who just repeats the facts that they were told by the interviewer.
There are techniques that solve these problems and allow the interviewer to confront a suspect and reduce resistance, even when the investigation is not as complete as it could have been. These techniques give the interviewer an opportunity to take advantage of the optimum moment in time without presenting evidence when the individual is susceptible to a confession.
The W-Z non-confrontational interview technique provides those advantages and allows the interviewer to addresses the vitally important first phase of the interview—reducing resistance.
For more information, visit www.w-z.com