Truth Assessment & Deception Detection


Truth Assessment & Deception Detection

One of the challenges of investigatory work is that often times the situation triggering the investigation dictates certain aspects and steps that have to be initially decided based on limited facts, the what initial steps taken in the early stages of the investigation. Due to this one may need to proceed into a fact finding role initially and then move into a truth assessment mode or vice versa. It should be understood that fact finding is very different then truth assessment & deception detection.

This particular article is not to discuss the thought paradigm of “how” to make those initial decisions in course of action; it is to discuss the process of truth assessment & deception detection in brief, if and when this is the chosen course of action in an investigation.

In assessing truth and deception ethically, and practically, the investigator should first approach the initial interview with an open mind and seek just that, the truth. Often times due to a subjects historically developed inter-personal communication patterns and behavior, one may appear on face to be deceptive. There are many cases of wrongfully accused and/or convicted person’s that were found or assumed “guilty” due to circumstantial evidence and incorrect or biased interview assessments. In addition, the interviewer will have a much better quality and end result if they approach the interview with a “blank mind” without prejudice or bias.

Before executing the initial interview the investigator conducting the interview should consider various possible motives for being deceptive and/or being honest.  This means, given the known facts and the source to be interviewed, what would be the possible reasons for them being deceptive and/or honest? While this does not reveal or establish any specific foundation of truth or deception it does assist the investigator in being mentally prepared to think on their feet while doing an in depth interview. Having done this once talking with the interview source the investigator can better begin to analyze this sources personal motivation orientation, are they moving towards motivated or moving away from motivated? Are they internal or external in their reflexive drive? Does, or could, the interview source have a third stage/level of motivation related to the situation in question?

The first stage of the forensic interview should be used to review any known background facts about the source and the situation being investigated, this will help establish a baseline of communication pattern and behavior. It is at this time the investigator can begin to learn about the sources baseline of personal characteristics and thought processes to begin preparing for later analysis in the interview. This first stage is often over looked in the process which results in a negative outcome later. (Caution, if this step is overlooked and/or is not thorough, it is difficult, if not impossible, to back track later and recover. While this seems redundant to the untrained person the above stage in the process sets the foundation of having any chance in assessing truth and deception later.)

The second stage is to ask the source to describe in their words the incident/situation in question. At this point the investigator should simply listen letting the source talk without interrupting while taking notes of observation and follow up questions based upon the statement provided. The investigator should be making notation of not only the story being told but also regarding language structure and physical communication patterns and/or deviations.

The third stage of assessment is to then go back and review the sources statement in detail. This is where the investigator reviews from start to finish the fine points of the statement that are naturally left out, drawing out detailed information regarding parts of the event spoken on delving into areas that the investigator sees as being relevant yet would not otherwise be brought out by the source either by attempting to be deceptive or by way of being naive or ignorant. At this stage the investigator should be checking not only for factual congruency, but also for communication and language patterns & behavior(s) congruency.

The final stage is for the investigator to back check the statement by way of using different/various methodologies in the line of questioning that revisit areas of concern, this can be confrontational in limited cases; however most the time it works best to be subtle and non-confrontational. Once this is done and the investigator is satisfied with the results then the source should be given the chance to change anything in their statement and they should be asked if they understood all the questions asked.

In closing it is important to keep in mind that forensic interviewing takes many hours of training and many hours of development in real interviews to attain workable skills. It is equally important to note while forensic interviewing is a legitimate tool that works in aiding in the investigative processes to help make decisions on how to move forward with the investigation and obtain insight into truth and deception; it is not “fool proof” and should never be used alone in an investigation to make a final decision on guilt, innocence or truthfulness.

No information in this article is intended to be nor should be taken as legal advice. This article is a professional opinion from an investigative perspective and is based upon an experienced investigative background. One should always consult a licensed attorney for legal advice. All rights reserved by 3Tier Services Inc. and Stephen Yerger. 4/2013