- Investigator Web Tip - May / June 2008 -
EVALUATING ONE-ON-ONE ALLEGATIONS
One-on-one allegations are very common in criminal investigations. The
accuser may be an alleged victim. The accused, of course, denies
involvement and offers an explanation for the false allegation. In
other situations, an incident occurs and there are only two possible
suspects. Obviously, both suspects will name the other as being the
These "He said, she said" cases are inherently difficult to investigate
for a number of reasons. Often, there is not a clear separation between
a truthful and false account. That is, both parties may be telling part
of the truth and also omitting or embellishing information. In many
cases, these interviews are conducted when one or both parties are in an
emotional state of mind which can cause misleading behavior symptoms.
Finally, because these cases are often spontaneous, a decision to make
an arrest must be made without the benefit of conducting an interview in
a controlled environment. This web tip will offer suggestions to help
assess the credibility of the people involved in one-on-one allegations.
1. Question Both Parties Separately
There is no better illustration of the problems associated with having
both the accused and accuser present during questioning than on
television court shows such as, "The People's Court" or, "Judge Judy."
Invariably, the liar becomes more committed to his or her position and
rarely confesses even when confronted with evidence. The truth-teller
may become angry or reticent out of frustration and staunchly face the
judge with his or her arms crossed. Suffice it to say, to learn the
truth requires that both accused and accuser be questioned separate from
In a domestic violence case involving a husband and wife, for example,
one investigator could question the wife in one room while another
investigator interviews the husband in a separate room. In a traffic
stop, one occupant may be left in the vehicle while the other is
questioned away from the vehicle. Following the initial interview, the
first occupant could be asked to wait in the vehicle while the second is
questioned away from the vehicle.
If the interviews are conducted by the same investigator at different
times, it is beneficial to first interview the accuser and then the
accused. If two possible parties to a crime need to be interviewed, the
person most likely to tell the truth, or least likely involved, should
be interviewed first. This assessment may be based on age, strength of
evidence, as well as behaviors or attitudes displayed during initial
2. Consider Having Both Parties Write Out A Statement
In a controlled environment, such as a business where an employee is
making allegations of unwanted sexual advances against a supervisor, it
is often beneficial to not only question each party separately, but also
to have each party first write out a statement. This suggestion applies
equally well to any one-on-one allegation where both parties are in a
To obtain the statement the investigator should give the suspect a
couple of sheets of lined paper and pen. At the top of the paper the
investigator should write out a question which he instructs the person
to answer in writing. The question should require that the person
explain everything about their behavior, knowledge or observations. The
following are possible introductory questions to ask in different
Domestic violence: "Tell me everything about what happened between you
and your husband (wife) this evening."
Sexual harassment (complainant): "Tell me everything about what you
experienced at (Company) that led to your complaint."
Sexual harassment (respondent):"Sally Smith reported that you made
sexual remarks to her. Tell me everything about any sexual remarks you
have made to Sally Smith."
Gun found in dorm room: "Tell me everything you know about the 9mm gun
found in your dorm room last Friday night."
Hit and run with two possible drivers: "Tell me everything you know
about the damage to the front right bumper of your room mate's car."
While it does take extra time to obtain a written statement (most of
these, even from truthful subjects, are only a couple of paragraphs
long) there are a number of benefits. First, the statement can be
assessed for credibility by applying statement analysis techniques.
Second, information from the statement can help the investigator prepare
for a formal interview of a suspect in that he knows what topics to
cover and may have identified problem areas within the statement to
pursue. Finally, because the statement is a permanent document from the
suspect, any documented lies or inconsistencies can be used to support
decisions relating to the case disposition.
3. Obtain Behavioral Information From Both Parties
It does the investigator little good to learn that a husband yelled at
his wife and scared her. To assess credibility, the investigator must
develop behavioral information. Behavior is objective and fixed in
time. It is not subject to justification, rationalization or individual
interpretation. The investigator needs to find out specifically what
was done, who was present, what object was used, where something
happened, what was said, etc.
While it is certainly more efficient to ask questions that require a
yes or no response such as, "Did your husband threaten you with a weapon
of any kind?" or, "Did your husband strike you at all?", these
closed-ended questions can invite deception. Especially during early
portions of an interview, the investigator should ask open-ended
questions that require a narrative response. This approach is much more
likely to result in truthful information as the following dialogue
I: "What happened here this evening?"
S: "My husband came home drunk and starting yelling at me and accusing
me of cheating on him. We argued and he threatened me. I was scared
for my life. That's when I called 911."
I: "Tell me how he threatened you."
S: "He was yelling and calling me a bitch, and he said I would pay for
what I did."
I: "Tell me about any physical contact he had with you this evening."
S: "Physical contact? He got right in my face and was yelling and
threatening, like I said."
I: "So he did not have physical contact with you this evening?"
S: "No, but I think he was going to."
I: "What did he have in his hands when he was arguing with you?"
S: "Well, nothing. But his voice had a threatening tone."
If two investigators are simultaneously questioning the accused and
accuser, it is much easier to establish what really happened if both
investigators focus their interviews on behavioral information. When
the two investigators compare notes, they can identify which behaviors
both parties agree upon, and which behaviors are disputed.
4. Suggested Behavior Provoking Questions
The unique dynamics of one-on-one interviews present the opportunity to
ask a number of behavior provoking questions that may be helpful in
determining which party is telling the truth. One of these is a BAIT
question where the subject is asked, "If (accuser) was given a polygraph
examination concerning the statement that you pointed a knife at her
this evening, what would her polygraph results be?" An innocent suspect
typically predicts that the accuser will fail the polygraph. On the
other hand, the guilty suspect will not have that level of confidence
and may offer an evasive response, e.g., "I don't really know much about
polygraphs" or perhaps even predict truthful results, "She's a really
good liar - she might be able to beat a polygraph." As a legal aside,
an employer is not in violation of the 1988 Employee Polygraph
Protection Act by asking an employee how another employee would do on a
A second behavior provoking question is the CREDIBILITY question. It
is simply phrased, "When (accuser) says that you (did issue) is he/she
lying? e.g., "When Sally says that you forcibly pulled down her jeans
and underwear, is she lying?" It is very difficult psychologically for
a person who knows that the accuser is telling the truth to respond to
this question with a confident agreement. A deceptive suspect may offer
a qualified response, "I believe she might be, yes." or an evasive
response, "I know what happened, and that's all I can say."
In the controlled environment of a laboratory study, one-on-one
allegations are the easiest type of case to solve. By design, one
subject is telling the truth and, therefore, the other subject must be
lying. In real life, however, these cases are often not cut and dried
because the subjects' behavior is contaminated by numerous outside
variables including intense emotions, intoxication of one or both
parties, and the telling of partial truths. An important key in
assessing the credibility of parties involved in a one-on-one allegation
is to interview both parties separately and focus the interview on
specific behaviors, not opinions or judgments. In a controlled
environment, requesting that both parties respond in writing to a
central question can be beneficial both in making an initial assessment
of credibility as well as conducting a subsequent interview.
(This article was prepared by John E. Reid and Associates, Inc. as their
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