Interviewing & Evidence Collection Tip: How to Handle an Inconsistent Statement
A new investigator may believe that if an interviewee is telling the truth, he will be consistent in his recollection of an event every single time. However, not every inconsistent statement made by an interviewee is made to intentionally deceive.
In fact, most interviewees will be helpful if an investigator sets the interview up effectively. Further, an inconsistent statement may be as accurate or even more accurate than consistent claims. That is, an account repeated three times with perfect consistency may be more of a red flag to dig deeper.
The two most important things to think about when evaluating inconsistencies are the passage of time between the incident and its recollection, and the significance of the event to the interviewee. Passage of time makes memory a bit foggy, and items stored in memory that become foggy the quickest are things that we don’t deem significant, like what we ate for lunch last Wednesday. That being said, we still have to be on the lookout for possible fallacies and know how to test them.
There are four ways to decrease the possibility of an inconsistent statement during the interviewing process.
- Encourage the interviewee to report events that come to mind that are not related or are trivial. In this way, you discourage an interviewee trying to please you by forcing the pieces to fit. They do not know about all the evidence that has been collected, and may believe that something is not related when it truly is.
- Tell the interviewee, explicitly, not to try to make-up anything he or she is unsure of simply to prove an answer. If they don’t know, simply request they say, “I don’t know.” This will help them relax.
- Do not give feedback after any statement like “good” or “right.” This will only encourage the interviewee to give more statements that you think are “good” or “right”– and may even influence them to believe that some things occurred that really didn’t.
- Ask the interviewee to tell the story of what happened from finish to start instead of start to finish. If the interviewee is intentionally trying to cover something up, he or she will have a hard time remembering the same order to the story he or she recited the first time because the interviewee will have a greater cognitive load to bear telling the story in reverse order.
Remember, there are lots of reasons a witness may give you an inconsistent statement. Use these techniques to decrease the possibility and collect better information for your investigation.