Interrogating suspects to get the truth is one of the most complex tasks for law enforcement officers, especially in cases where there are no witnesses or a valid exhibit. The law enforcement officers are sometimes faced with a difficult task of proving that a particular suspect or witness is telling the truth on a given case or not. This has jeopardised the speedy and successful prosecution of criminal cases in the society. The acts of terrorism are on the rise, not only in Australia, but also in other countries around the world. According to Houston (2012), with the rising rate of terrorism in the country, the Australian Counter-Terrorism and National Security Agency has a big role of ensuring that criminal cases are successfully prosecuted in order to deter such acts from taking place again.
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The agency has been struggling with the criminal suspects who hold that they are innocent while the truth is that they are guilty. Without sufficient skills that can help to determine if one is telling the truth or not, cases of criminals walking free has been on the rise. At the same time, the society has criticised this agency for convicting wrong victims and finally sending them to prison while the real perpetrators walk free. Larner (2013) observes that the real culprit would come and testify against the innocent individuals, and because the officers lack the capacity to discern the truth from lies, the innocent individual would easily be sentenced for a crime that was never committed by them.
Psychologists have been actively conducting research to come up with the psychological means that can be used by the interrogators to determine when one is telling the truth during the investigation or not. In this special report to ACTNSA, the researcher seeks to identify the latest research on the techniques available for the interrogators and their effectiveness in order to make appropriate recommendations for ACTNSA officers.
Latest Research on Psychological Techniques of Interrogation Available and Their Effectiveness
Recent researchers have been focused on coming up with more modern ways that interrogators can use in order to determine the truthfulness of the statements that are always given by the suspects or witness. In order to understand some of these new concepts developed by the recent scholars, the researcher will analyze these recent techniques in three categories.
Recent research on the use of non-verbal cues to evaluate the truthfulness and detect deception
Recent scholars still believe that non-verbal cues are effective during the interrogation process. According to McConville (2011), use of non-verbal cues has been considered as one of the best ways of determining when one is telling the truth or not. When interrogating a criminal or a witness, it is important not to have a general belief that the witness or suspect will be interested in protecting him or herself. For instance, there have been many cases where individuals would criminalise themselves in order to protect those whom they love. A mother may easily own up to a crime of a son just to allow the son have a second chance in life. How an investigator realises that the mother is criminalising herself is one of the important psychological tasks that the officers at this agency must be aware of in order to undertake their duties appropriately. The officer responsible for the investigation should be very keen to identify the deliberate efforts of the witness or suspect to avoid the direct eye-contact (Haykin, 2012).
This scholar says that people are somehow ashamed or suspicious when telling a lie. They may develop a feeling that the investigator will realise that they are lying by looking at their eyes. To avoid such unfortunate scenarios, they always make a deliberate effort to avert any possibility of direct eye-contact. This can be one of the psychological tools that these officers can use during the process of interrogation. However, care should be taken when using this approach because there are some people who are naturally shy. Others always develop fear during investigation and would avoid direct eye-gaze when talking to an officer under such circumstances.
Inbau (2013) also emphasises on the need to study the movement of the eye because from it one can tell whether an individual is telling the truth or not. This idea is supported by Gaines and Miller (2013) who say, “An individual who is lying always looks up and left, purses his lips, tenses his eyelids, and brings his eyebrows down.” This is a detailed explanation of how to determine whether one could be telling a lie or not. These two scholars say that when one is lying, there is always a sense of restlessness from within. This restlessness may not be detected in the speech or body movement but in the eye. Before one can develop a lie, he or she will need to think very fast.
The movement of the eye will be a clear indication that the person is manufacturing lies in order to obstruct justice that may act against them. The investigator should be observant of these eye movements, and if possible, the whole process of investigation should be recorded for further analysis. However, Allingham (2011) warns that there are cases where investigators wear grim faces that some timid witnesses or suspects cannot withstand looking at for long. In such cases, a suspect or witness will try to look at the officer in the eye but avoid the gaze soon after in order to avoid the intimidation. Some people also have a natural habit of unsettled gazes even in cases where there is a normal discussion or when faced with a tense situation. Once again, this psychological approach should only be used as a component to back up other strategies, and not as the sole reason for making a conclusion.
Godefroy (2013) argues that fidgeting of hands or feet may be another approach that can be used by the interrogators to determine the truthfulness of the statements made by the suspects or witnesses. In most cases, suspects would fidget their hands as a sign of remorse from what they have done. This happens involuntarily without the suspect’s realisation. This is always common among the children when they make mistakes. When a five-year old girl eats a cake without permission and the mother questions her, she will start fidgeting the feet while denying the truth. On the other hand, when the child is innocent, she will look straight into the eye of the mother and defend her innocence. The guilt weighs heavily, and because one cannot lie to his or her own senses, there is always a clue in the movement of the body parts that will not be in agreement with what is stated verbally. The fidgeting of the fingers can be one of these cues that would reveal the truth.
Houston (2012) says that the body posture is another non-verbal cue that an investigator can use to determine the truthfulness of a statement. This is very appropriate when dealing with the hardened criminals. Human beings always have a limitless love for self. For this reason, when one is accused wrongly, then the reaction in the rejection to the claim will be reflected in the entire body
Recent research on the use of verbal cues to evaluate the truthfulness and detect deception
The works of some of the recent scholars indicate that verbal cues still remain one of the most powerful tools during investigation. According to McConville (2011), verbal cues offer the best way of determining whether or not someone is telling the truth. It is common for someone to lie about an issue consistently. However, Gaines and Miller (2013) say that a keen evaluation of statements that one makes about a given case can easily tell the truthfulness of a case. When interrogating a suspect or a witness, it is important to make him or her recount the events that took place when the offence was committed. Each of the accounts should be video-recorded for the analysis at a later time.
It is easy to maintain a lie on some of the fundamental issues that one may think could incriminate him or her. However, chances are always high that some issues considered minor would not be recorded in the mind. For this reason, these minor accounts could change with every statement made. Chen and Ke (2013) say that the more the statement is repeated, the closer these minor issues in the story will move closer to the truth. The mind gets tired of storing some of these minor lies and tends to tell the truth. The officers should be keen to use the minor verbal cues to construct the truth of what took place.
In a study conducted by to McConville (2011), the researcher wanted to determine how individuals would behave when called to provide information about themselves or their friends. In order to make the case valid, the scholar sought for the permission from the administration and made wild allegation about one of the students. The allegations were false. The suspect was then called to the office to answer to the charges. It was evident that sometimes innocent people may twist the truth just to stay further away from the crime scene. When making the lies, it was easier to tell it from the statement made. Although the fundamental issues in the statement were consistent, it was obvious that some of the minor lies made would change from one statement to the other. The witnesses also lied, just to ensure that their friend does not get punished for a crime he did not commit. This means that when conducting the investigation, it is always necessary to determine when an innocent person is telling a lie just to build a strong defence.
Recent research on the use of ‘Cognitive Knowledge Test’ to evaluate the truthfulness and detect deception
Cognitive knowledge test is probably one of the most recent approaches that psychologists have been exploring for its possible use by the investigators. According to Chen and Ke (2013), cognitive knowledge test can be used to evaluate the truthfulness of statements of witnesses and to detect deceptions. This is a practical experiment that the investigators subject the suspects or witnesses to in order to gauge their statements. In order to achieve the desired information, the following method should be used.
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The method to follow when using cognitive knowledge test
The focus of this approach would be to try and determine the knowledge of the suspect on specific issues that are related to the crime that was committed. According to Houston (2012), the interrogator should ask specific questions related to the crime in order to capture how well the suspect is aware of it. For every question asked, a lot of attention should be paid to the response of the suspect both through verbal and non-verbal communications.
The possible results from the experiment
According to Harvey (2013), the reactions of the suspect will help determine the level of knowledge he or she has about the issue under investigation. When the person is innocent, shock and disgust will be seen not only in the face, but also in the body posture, which means that the issue being stated by the interrogator are new to his mind. On the other hand, when the person is guilty, the reaction will be evident in the body. There will be no shock in the body language, but a sign of remorse. The investigating officer should be keen to observe such cues. However, the ACTNSA officers involved in the investigation should not use this as the basis of truth when interrogating a suspect or a witness.
The society is subject to various cases of crime that needs proper investigation by ACTNSA officers in order to identify the criminals and successfully prosecute them. However, sometimes it may not be easy to determine the truthfulness of the statements made by the suspects because they always try to hide the truth in order to defend themselves. The investigating officers should make an effort to use the psychological techniques to help them determine the truthfulness of such statements. Verbal and non-verbal cues can be used in this process. However, no single strategy of those mentioned above can be considered self-sufficient. It may be necessary to use a series of the verbal and non-verbal cues to determine the truthfulness of the statement.
Based on the findings of this report, the researcher recommends that ACTNSA officers responsible for conducting interrogations should consider the following.
- Suspects should be treated as innocent individuals with information strongly kept as a secret that can only be obtained through constant positive interaction.
- When starting an investigation process, the officers should make an effort to ensure that their minds are not polluted with prejudice against or in favour of the suspects. Such prejudice will impair the ability of the investigator to capture the verbal and non-verbal cues that would lead to the much sought after truth.
- Sometimes the non-verbal cues may be displayed by the suspect for a period as short as an eighth of a second before one gains the composure and hides all the possible verbal and non-verbal cues. The officer should be very attentive enough to capture such cues.
- A suspect or witness should be made to make statements over a given incident several times at an interval of about five hours. Each time the statement is made, it should be video-recorded so that it can be analysed for its truthfulness.
- All the verbal and non-verbal cues mentioned above should be used complementarily during the investigation.
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Chen, J., & Ke, S. (2013). Criminal law and criminal procedure law in the People’s Republic of China: Commentary and legislation. New York: Cengage. Web.
Gaines, L. K., & Miller, R. L. R. (2013). Criminal justice in action. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. Web.
Godefroy, O. (2013). The behavioral and cognitive neurology of stroke. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Web.
Harvey, P. D. (2013). Cognitive impairment in schizophrenia: Characteristics, assessment, and treatment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Web.
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Houston, P. (2012). Spy the lie: Former CIA officers show you how to detect deception. New York: St. Martin’s Press. Web.
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