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how to tell if someone is lying

The “Negative” Interview

by Stan B. Walters, CSP
“The Lie Guy®”

Many of us as interviewers have encountered the occasional subject who will not respond to any of our efforts to conduct some semblance of an interview. We may not able to get them to provide some form of alibi statement much less an opinion about what they “think” might have happened or how they may be connected. The next time you encounter this type of highly resistant, difficult subject try conducting one or more of three “negative” interview approaches – the “never”, “definitely” or the “they’re wrong” statements.

The “never” interview consists of asking questions about general case information and having the subject absolutely deny the information. For example, he “never” dated the victim, was “never” in her car, “never ever” been in possession of her checkbook or other personal item, “never” saw the computer printout, etc. In this interview it will not be necessary for the interviewer to initially possess all the information or details about which he or she is asking and we definitely do not want to give away any crucial evidence at the risk of contaminating our subject. Once we have an “absolute” denial we can conduct some investigative follow-up regarding the subject responses to determine that he or she was deceptive.

The “definitely” interview is used when the subject provides some form of statement but shows no sign of acknowledging contradictory evidence. In this case we work with the subject asking specific questions of him or her that provides them the opportunity to provide “definite” proof of their statement. The more they provide what they consider specific details of their “proof” the more investigative leads we are able to generate to either support or disprove our subject’s statement.

The “they’re wrong” interview presents the subject with general information that has been provided by friends, witnesses, or even fellow subjects. Once again we are careful not to contaminate the subject’s behavior and knowledge by feeding them specific case information. We want to be sure that the subject’s knowledge of facts originates from their intimate contact with and participation in the event and not from our dialogue. In the “they’re wrong” statement, the subject is permitted to address the statements that appear to contradict those that they themselves have made and articulate why those people are wrong – either the other people lied, don’t like them, weren’t there, etc. This approach will create an apparent all “those people” versus “me” and all their statements, although they are consistent and correspond with the majority of the evidence is wrong.

The objective of the “negative” interview is to lock or subject into their statements so tightly that those very statements effectively condemn them as being deceptive. This approach still permits us to conduct the more effective narrative-based interview that has been shown to be less likely to elicit false statements. We are not attempting to “bluff” the subject nor impress them with the information we have in hand. All I need to do as the investigator is to “impeach” the absolute statements of the subject and the subject has provided me the tools I need to accomplish that goal. How many times have we heard or been told that an attorney during deposition, direct or even cross-examination should never ask a question for which he or she doesn’t already know the answer. We are asking the subject questions that for the most part we already know most of the answers. We are giving the subject the opportunity to be truthful or deceptive. We want to see which choice they make. If it is the wrong choice, we will be sure his or her words will come back to haunt them.

The Attention Distracted Interviewer

by Stan B. Walters, CSP
“The Lie Guy®”

The famous screen and stage actor Kevin Spacey was recently performing the role of Willie Lohman in the play “Death of Salesman.”  In the middle of one of the scenes a cell phone began ringing somewhere in the audience.  After a few annoying moments the phone ceased ringing only to start ringing again!  Spacey stopped his performance and told the member of the audience that the actors would be pleased to wait for the owner to answer the phone and tell the caller to call back later.  We are now living a culture of constant interruptions that has shortened everyone”s attention span and eroding away at our ability to concentrate on completing even one task at a time.

Unfortunately this era of attraction distraction has also invaded the interview room.  In the consulting side of my work, I frequently review and analyze audio and videotape interviews and interrogations.  More than once I have witnessed interviewers, who have totally lost control of the focus of the interview, the loss of concentration on their part as well as that of there subject and the overall degradation of the productivity of their interview efforts. Personal interruptions, external disruptions and a flooded room are just some of the distractions I’ve witnessed.

When you enter into an interview situation, your attention should be totally focused on your subject, obtaining case facts, admissions and confessions.  In two separate interview videos, I observed female interviewers engage in personal grooming behavior.  In each case they pulled out either hand or body moisturizing creams and began treating their hands, elbows and in one case the female interviewer went as far as pulling off her shoes and rubbing cream on her heals.  Don’t get all puffed up guys!  I’ve also observed male interviewers take cell calls from wives and girlfriends during an interview.  In one case I could hear one interviewer over his interviewing partner still talking to the subject as he made plans for a dinner date as he stood over in the corner of the interview room talking on his cell phone.

Distractions aren’t always generated from inside the interview room.  Many of us have victims of “helpful” fellow officers, investigators, or staff who suddenly decide that their little problems should be a crisis shared by everyone including anyone interview room. You shouldn’t every let the fact that there’s interview going on stand in the way of planning who is going to buy the beer and bring the ribs for the tailgate party for the ballgame Saturday.  Itís also important to find out if the guys in the interview want to go in on pizza for lunch and you certainly want to keep tabs on how the interview is going so just stick your head in the room and asked if he’s “given it up yet.”

There is no doubt that there are times when problems can be solved better when we have several people together brainstorming.  It doesn’t work well however in the interview room.  In the video of one homicide investigation it was apparently important to have all jurisdictions represented.  I counted three jurisdictions and a total of 6 interviewers counting the attending supervisors.  In two separate cases involving juvenile homicide subjects I counted 6 and 7 participants respectively counting the parents and family members.  It’s kinda hard to stay on track when everyone feels they have to ask questions.

Have you let all the distractions take over your interview room?  Whoever had the idea that humans can learn to “multitask” their activities has never been inside “The Room.” Interviews are far too important in consequence to be some contaminated by controllable distractions.  Take ownership of your interview room and demand the full attention and focus of those present.  Enforce a “no distractions rule.”  Limit the number of people in the room to a bear minimum.  Ditch the cell phones and pagers before you come in ñ ban them from the room if necessary.  Make it department policy that NO ONE walks into the interview room uninvited or unexpected unless it is absolutely critical to the interview.  In addition, don’t forget to respect the rules of your fellow investigators and interviewers when they are conducting their interviews.