Interviews and interrogations form the backbone of much of the fact-finding and fact-establishing investigative activities performed by law enforcement, and the findings gleaned from these activities can often be used as primary evidence in court. Despite there being some similarities between these two activities, there are also significant differences that have huge implications for which method private investigators are allowed to use.
That is why it is so important for you as a private investigator to understand the differences between interviews and interrogations and understand what you can and cannot do in your investigations. In this post, we will first explore the differences between interviews and interrogations. Then we will explain which method can be used when and wrap things up with some best practices for each method
What is the difference between an interview and an interrogation?
Interviews and interrogations have similarities, but they are dramatically different in their approach and desired outcomes. Here is a definition of each that highlights these particular differences.
What is an interview?
An interview is a conversation between two or more parties conducted to gather information. An interview is generally open-ended, conversational, and non-accusatory in nature. In addition, the person being interviewed may not necessarily be a suspect in the case but may simply be a witness, bystander, subject matter expert, or some other person possessing information potentially relevant to the case.
What is an interrogation?
An interrogation is a formal process where an interrogator systematically questions a person with the goal of eliciting a voluntary confession or admission of guilt. In general, the person being interrogated is either the suspect or some other person thought to be complicit in the offense. By nature, an interrogation is more direct and accusatory.
Can private investigators interrogate?
No, Private Investigators cannot interrogate suspects. Interrogations are strictly reserved for law enforcement, which has been endowed with constitutional authority to conduct their duties within society. Only law enforcement can legally take suspects into custody and must provide Miranda Notice before interrogating them.
Private Investigators, on the other hand, lack this constitutional authority and can only elicit voluntary confessions and admissions of guilt. This means that private investigators cannot interrogate suspects.
A Private Investigator’s sole purpose is to gather data (evidence). Therefore, an interview should be how a Private Investigator gathers information.
Learn more: How to Conduct an Investigative Interview
How to conduct successful interviews while avoiding interrogations
As mentioned previously, social media is easily manipulatable, and you must validate the evidence that you find. It’s often best to try to validate certain findings from multiple angles. For example, multiple photos from multiple people could help to establish a particular fact beyond a reasonable doubt.
A key skill that all private investigators must develop is knowing how to interview people. It’s also important to know how to avoid your interviews being construed as interrogations. Here are some guiding principles for when to use an interview vs. an interrogation:
Keep your interactions non-accusatory.
In general, an interrogation is accusatory. As such, you should ensure that all of your interactions (even with potential suspects) are as unbiased as possible and non-accusatory. Rather, be conversational, establish rapport, and ask questions factually and without any insinuation of wrongdoing.
De-escalate tense situations.
If an interview is tense or begins to escalate, do your best to defuse the situation. Reassure the person you are interviewing of your role in the process. Explain to them that you are not insinuating guilt or any wrongdoing. Rather, explain that your job is simply to ask questions, document responses, and seek out the facts.
Do not try to elicit a confession or admission of guilt.
The goal of an interview is to gather facts, not elicit confessions. A person may admit to wrongdoing in an interview, and this can be recorded. However, be sure that your questions are not designed to coerce, trick, or deceive the person into confessing. Doing so will likely lead to any evidence you gather in the interview being inadmissible in court and may also put you in legal jeopardy.
Best Practices for Conducting Successful Interviews
Conducting successful interviews requires preparation, understanding, and continual practice. There are also several procedural best practices that you should be aware of that will help you be more successful in your interviews. Here are three:
- Be respectful and clear to the interviewee. One of the best ways to respect an interviewee is to set a time limit on your interviews (e.g. 30-60 minutes) and clearly explain how the interview process works. This will set your interviewee at ease and build rapport with him or her.
- Use detailed notes in interviews. Taking notes is common practice to take notes during an interview. Your notes will be one of the most valuable outputs from your interviews, and understanding how to take good notes is essential.
- Focus on the facts. Even though you cannot interrogate people, it is important to realize that successful interrogations may build upon the results of interviews. Much of your job ends when you interview a witness and gather his or her side of the story. If, however, the case eventually becomes a criminal investigation, the facts you gather in your interviews may form an important pillar of law enforcement’s interrogation strategy.
Are you interested in learning more about how to be a successful PI or looking to dive deeper into topics like this? At NITA, we offer online courses for private investigators to help you grow in your role as a private investigator or prepare you for certification if you’re just getting started on your PI journey.
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