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Want a Confession?  Then ask for it!

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

In my consulting work I review many, many video taped or even audio taped interviews.  Of course there are some great interviews and occasionally some not so good.  There are also many cases when the interviewer does an excellent job of controlling the subject through the 5 stress response states and perfectly attacks a subject’s deception. One area that always seems to be the biggest challenge for every interviewer is getting the actual confession.  The three issues that surround this challenge include knowing when the subject is open to the suggestion of a confession, why they decide to confess and most importantly being asked to confess.

The first step toward getting the confession is recognizing when the subject is intellectually and emotionally ready.  One of the two most asked about areas of my classes are the confession signs and spotting deception.  “I can see the guy is lying, I just can’t get him to confess!”  Body language and verbal cues will tell us when our subject is in acceptance.  With our limited space here, it would be hard to cover this topic adequately.  I classify verbal cues into three sections; punishment statements, third person remarks, and what I call “debt service.”  Body language signs of acceptance must be accompanied by verbal confirmation of acceptance because body language cues and depression cues overlap and can be easily misdiagnosed.

The second thing every interviewer must consider is why a subject won’t confess as well as why they will confess.  Subjects, whether victims, witnesses as well as suspects are lying for their own selfish reasons.  It may not make sense to the outsider or to the interviewer but each person has their own specific emotional or psychological reason why they choose to lie, when they choose to lie and how they accomplish that goal.  Confessions from subjects are also done for selfish reasons.  They are not confessing to make you happy (although some will which should immediately make us suspicious as the validity of the confession) but for their own personal reasons.  The only time a person changes from deception to acceptance is when they in their own mind decide the position of confession is better than the position of deception. That’s what interrogation is all about.

Finally, once all the other parts of the puzzle are in place, the interviewer needs to ask for the confession.  We can take the subject up to that point but we also need to tell them what they need to do.  In sales or when writing advertising copy, it’s time for a “call to action.” The buyer or reader of the ad copy is given directions what to do next.  We need to do the same for our subject.  Two keys for a “call to action” for a confession are very important.  First is scarcity and the second is control.  The subject must believe that the time for action is fleeting.  Nothing motivates people to action unless they think the opportunity to act is vanishing and may not return.  Second, they must believe they are not surrendering but maintaining control by acting.  “I think you want to straighten this out now don’t you?”  “I don’t believe you want this to get out of hand and allow the rumors to get started.” “I’m afraid that if you don’t take care of this now, I won’t be able to help you later.”

When interviewing a subject, don’t forget to ask for the confession. The person knows they need to act but we need to give them the incentive and instructions on how and when to take that first step. Mentally practice asking for the confession.  Consider even creating a list of “calls for confession” that will emphasize the concept of scarcity and control to your subject and asks for their confession.

Interrogation: Letting the Game Come to You

Recently I was working on a couple of interrogation tapes that some agencies ask me to review and soon after presented two of my Level 3 & 4 classes.  On the fourth day of this class, students get the opportunity to participate in live interviews with volunteer subjects from a nearby correctional facility.  In both instances, I was struck by the fact that the interviewers felt the need to “drive” the interview or interrogation.  In each case the goal of the interviewer was to find the truth but during their big push I noticed the interviewers were missing some subtle but yet extremely important responses by their subjects.  As interviewers we need to learn how to just “steer” an interview and “let the game come to us.”

With the initiation of the narration phase of any interview I have a set of goals I hope to achieve. First, I want to elicit a full and complete uninterrupted statement from my subject so that I can a.) identify if the individual is evading, withholding, omitting, altering, or overlooking critical information that I need for my investigation and b.) if they are evading, withholding or altering information is it with the deliberate intent to mislead me. If I assume a “driving” type of approach I often push the subject away from or race past issues that may be critical to my analysis and ultimately my case. Think of this like driving at night – we can “over drive” our headlights.  We’ll have little or no time to react to any road changes or hazards that we illuminate with our headlights because we plowing through the darkness full speed ahead.  By slowing down even just a little in the room I can allow a subject’s reactions and responses to develop a little more fully.  Now as the interviewer I can “steer” the interview into this areas and thereby giving me more time and as well many more opportunities to react to my subject and the issues that are obviously significant to them.

No one likes being “driven” into what they may perceive is a emotionally or mentally threatening situation.  Any one of us would immediately start to resist in at least a passive if not aggressive form.  Our fight or flight responses have been automatically triggered by the feeling we may be heading for a trap. In two different interviews in two different advanced classes, I spotted the same “driving” technique being used by students on their inmate volunteers.  I’m sure that with their new skills my students certainly wanted to unleash all their newly acknowledge on the poor unsuspecting inmate but I could them missing some key issues. Doing something I rarely do, I wrote a note to each interviewer basically telling them to slow down, allow the subject time to develop their responses and notice their reactions. In other words, “let the game come to you.”  In both cases,  there was an immediately significant increase in the subjects’ reactions as well as the quantity and quality of information – both spoken and unspoken.

We don’t need to “drive” our subjects during the interview – just “steer.” If we need to get a full and complete narrative from our subject and then fairly test the accuracy of our subject’s statements, then we are going to have to learn to “let the game come to us.”