# 8.5: Evaluating the Evidence (Interrogation)

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## Exoneration

After making an arrest, an objective investigator must always be prepared to hear an explanation that will challenge the direct evidence or the assumptions of the circumstantial evidence that led to the reasonable grounds for belief to make that arrest. The best reason an arrested suspect can be offered to answer questions is to be exonerated from the crime. It is possible, and it does occur, that persons are arrested for a crime they have not committed. Sometimes, they are wrongly identified and accused by a victim. Other times, they are incriminated by a pattern of circumstantial evidence that they can ultimately explain. The interrogation following the arrest is an opportunity for the suspect to put their version of events on the record, and to offer an alternate explanation of the evidence for investigators to consider. Exoneration is not just an interrogation strategy; it is the duty of an objective investigator to offer a suspected person the opportunity to make an explanation of the evidence that led to their arrest. This can be initiated by offering the suspect the proposition, “This is the evidence that led to your arrest. If there is an alternate explanation for this evidence, please tell me what that is.” In some cases, the statements made by the suspect will require additional investigation and confirmation of facts to verify the exoneration. Conducting these investigations is also the duty of an objective investigator.

## Deception to Outsmart the System

Some experienced criminals or persons who have committed well-planned crimes believe that they can offer an alternate explanation for their involvement in the criminal event that will exonerate them as a suspect. An investigator may draw answers from this type of suspect by offering the same proposition that is offered for exoneration. This is the opportunity for a suspect to offer an alibi or a denial of the crime and an alternate explanation or exonerating evidence. It can be very difficult for a suspect to properly explain away all the evidence. Looking at the progression of the event, an interrogator can sometimes ask for additional details that the suspect cannot explain. The truth is easier to tell because it happened, and the facts will line up. In contrast, a lie frequently requires additional lies to support the untrue statement. Examining a statement that is believed to be untrue, an interrogator can sometimes ask questions that expose the lies behind the original lie.

## Conscience

As much as the good guys versus the bad guys’ concept of criminal activity are commonly depicted in books and movies, experienced investigators can tell you that people who have committed a criminal offense often feel guilt and true regret for their crime. This is particularly true of persons who are first-time offenders and particularly young offenders who have committed a crime against a person.

Suspects fitting this category may be identified by their personal profile, which typically includes no criminal record, no police record or limited police record of prior investigations, evidence of poor planning, or evidence of emotional/spontaneous actions in the criminal event.

Suspects who fit this profile may be encouraged to talk by investigators who have reviewed the effect that the criminal act has had on the victim or the victim’s family. Following this review of victim impact, the investigator can accentuate the suspect’s lack of past criminal conduct, while making the observation that the suspect probably feels really bad about this. Observing the suspect during this progression, a suspect affected by guilt will sometimes exhibit body language or facial expressions of concern or remorse. Responses, such as shoulders slumping, head hung down, eyes tearing up, or avoiding eye contact, can indicate the suspect is ashamed and regretful of the crime. Observing this type of response, an investigator may move to a theme of conversation that offers the suspect the opportunity to clear their conscience by taking responsibility for their actions and apologizing or by taking some other action to right the wrong that has been done.

## Explanation to Minimize Involvement

Suspects who have been arrested will sometimes be willing to provide an additional explanation of their involvement or the events to reduce their level of culpability or blame for the crime. In cases where multiple suspects have been arrested for a crime, one of those suspects may wish to characterize their own involvement as peripheral, sometimes as being before the fact or after the fact involvement. Examples of this would be a person who left the door unlocked for a break-in to take place or merely driving the getaway car. These less involved suspects hope to gain a reduced charge or even be reclassification as a witness against their co-accused. In such cases, where multiple suspects are arrested, the investigator can initiate this strategy by offering the proposition, “If you have only a limited or minimal level of involvement in this crime, you should tell me about that now.”

## Surrender to Overwhelming Evidence

The arrested suspect in a criminal investigation waiting in custody for interrogation has plenty to think about. Even the most experienced criminals will be concerned about how much evidence the police have for proving their connection to the crime. In the process of presenting a suspect with the opportunity to address the evidence that has been collected, an additional strategy can sometimes be engaged where there is a large volume of incriminating evidence or undeniable direct evidence, such as eyewitnesses or strong forensic evidence for circumstantial connections of the suspect to the crime. In such cases, if the interrogator can reveal the evidence in detail to the suspect, this disclosure may result in the suspect losing hope and making a confession to the crime. Although this tendency to surrender to overwhelming evidence may seem illogical, it does happen. Sometimes, this surrender has more to do with the conscience and shame of the crime, but other times, the offender has just lost the energy to resist what they perceive to be a hopeless fight. As counter-intuitive as this may seem, research has found that the suspect’s perception of the strength of police evidence is one of the most important factors influencing their decision to confess to the police (Gudjonsson & Petursson, 1991). More recent research has shown that the stronger the evidence, the more likely a suspect was to confess (Gudjonsson, 2015 ).

This page titled 8.5: Evaluating the Evidence (Interrogation) is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Tabitha Raber.