Ideally, a written statement comes from the mind of the suspect, placed on paper by the suspect, and signed by the suspect. In some circumstances, the suspect may be unable or unwilling to write a statement but may agree to sign a statement prepared by you or an observer. Very important in such a scenario is to ensure that the statement is accurate, complete, and that the wording is that of the suspect. Notes taken during the interrogation may be used to clarify key points. Specific questions can be put to the suspect, with the answers entered on the written statement in the suspect’s own words.
The most incriminating type of statement is a full confession, written in the hand of the suspect, in the words of the suspect, sworn to under oath, signed and initialed by the suspect, and witnessed by you and one other person. Although prized, this type of statement is out of the norm; suspects simply do not like to write their own confessions. For most investigators, this refusal by the suspect can be turned to good advantage: type or handwrite a statement while you ask questions with the suspect observing. If the suspect signs the statement you constructed, you are ahead of the game. If the suspect declines to sign, you at least have a record of what transpired or leads to be developed.
In constructing such a statement, you need to use the words of the suspect, common sense calls for inclusion of words and the use of grammar reflective of the suspect’s general vocabulary. A confession obtained from a suspect having a sixth grade education is regarded skeptically when it includes large words and highly complex sentences. If a suspect speaks with profanity, the typed statement can contain profanity. Actual sentences are included as much as possible but do not have to appear in the same order given by the suspect.
Hand the statement to the suspect and ask him/her to read it. Ask for any comments that would change or add to the statement for the purpose of making it full and accurate. Changes or additions
stipulated are placed at the end of the statement.
Give the statement to the suspect and ask for initials on changes, additions, corrected cross-outs, and typing errors. Also ask for initials at the bottom and top of each page.
Then ask the suspect to sign the statement. If you get a refusal, ask for a verbal acknowledgement. If the suspect refuses to do even this, you and the observer should so indicate the refusal on the statement and in your notes.
Making a record of an interrogation includes, among other actions, retaining and protecting all written materials prepared incidental to the interrogation. These would include notes and sketches made by yourself and an observer, if present. It would also include anything written by the suspect such as a map showing how he/she approached and left the scene. Most importantly, of course, would be a signed, written statement of the suspect. In some situations, it may be advisable to prepare your own written statement to clarify matters that later may be confusing to your client, the client’s attorney, and ultimately, a judge and/or jury.
Electronic media, such as audio and video recordings, are ideal for making a record of the interrogation from beginning to end. If there are any breaks during the interrogation, state the time started and ended, and ask the suspect to do the same. Capture in the electronic recording the date, time, place of interrogation, the name of the interrogator, the name of the person to be interrogated and a verbal acknowledgment, certain advisements and the suspect’s responses as to understanding and acknowledging them. Advisements should include making the suspect aware of the matter under investigation and that he/she can terminate the interrogation at any time.
At the beginning, provide your name and the names of other persons present, the time and date, and the purpose of the interrogation. Do not use the word “interrogate” because for some people it conjures up images of intimidation and coercion. Instead, use “interview” or “discussion.” The same holds true for the suspect. Don’t call him/her a suspect and don’t refer to the questioning as interrogating. Call it discussing or talking or sharing ideas.