My approach to / views on suspect interviewing:
After you join the police, it slowly but surely dawns on you that people will and do get away with crimes that they have committed, all the time, despite your best efforts.
It can be frustrating when this happens, but it’s part of living in a country where suspects don’t have to prove their innocence, and where the defendant gets the benefit of the doubt. Indeed, I’d be entitled to that doubt too if I was ever charged with a crime.
Our criminal justice system is essentially a game, where only what can be proved matters, and what really happened doesn’t matter at all. It’s a game with very real victims and very real consequences for those on the receiving end of criminal activity. I accept too that there can be very real consequences for those convicted of committing crimes, although only rarely do I feel any sympathy for those convicted.
I would say, although there’s no way of proving it, that we the police arrest the right people the vast majority of the time. I would say that less than 10-15% of those who find themselves getting arrested on suspicion of committing a crime are genuinely innocent – by that I don’t mean innocent in the eyes of the law, I mean that they really didn’t do it.
As I mentioned above, when dealing with serious and complex offences admissions by suspects in interview are very rare. So, with the odds stacked against us as they are with our system, how can we use the suspect interview to maximise the chance of getting good results for victims of crime, while playing the game within the rules?
The first thing to realise is that guilty suspects, if they’re going to speak to us, lie. They lie all the time and they lie about everything. As such, if a suspect gives an account, it’s important to get as much information from them as possible and pin them down to their account. Then, if we can later show that they were lying about one aspect of their account it can throw doubt on the rest of it too.
If a suspect in interview disagrees with something that a witness has said, I like to ask the suspect if the witness is lying. They will often say yes, which can open up the suspect’s bad character at court further down the line (gateway ‘g’ of the bad character provisions).
Similarly, I like to ask a repeat offenders “is this the type of thing you would do?”, which is a difficult question for them to answer. If they say no, then their bad character could again go in at court further down the line (gateway ‘f’ of the bad character provisions). If they say yes, then it can make their account seem less plausible.
‘Bad character’ basically means information about the suspect which suggests that they may have behaved in badly in the past, including details of their previous criminal convictions.
Then we have special warnings, which can be given to a suspect when they fail to account for things found at the time of their arrest (like stolen property being in their house), or if they fail to explain why they were somewhere close to the crime scene when they were arrested. If a special warning is given, a judge can later tell a jury to consider why the suspect didn’t give an answer to such questions, which can help to tip the balance of the case in our favour.
Of all the parts that make up a criminal investigation suspect interviewing is, for me, one of the most interesting and enjoyable areas. It’s good to finally sit across from a suspect you’ve spent a long time trying to identify, or to see a suspect squirm when you ‘hit’ them with evidence that they know means that they are going to jail.
It’s even nicer when someone has the guts to admit what they’ve done.
By Officer Y