One of the many talents of a private investigator is interviewing witnesses and suspects to gather facts and information for a case. A skilled private investigator knows the right questions to ask to find the information necessary to find a lead or solve a case. During their work, private investigators may interview many different people. For example, witnesses such as plaintiffs and defendants, bystanders, subject matter experts, family members, law enforcement officers, medical examiners, etc.
Tips for Interviewing Witnesses
Interviewing witnesses in a legal case is a critical task that requires careful planning and execution to gather accurate and relevant information. Here are some tips to ensure effective witness interviews:
Preparation is Key
- Before the interview, familiarize yourself with the case details, evidence, and relevant legal framework.
- Create a list of key questions to cover during the interview.
- Review any available statements or documents related to the witness and the case.
- Begin the interview with a friendly and respectful demeanor to put the witness at ease.
- Introduce yourself, explain your role and the purpose of the interview.
- Show empathy and sensitivity, especially in cases involving emotional or traumatic experiences.
Choose the Right Setting
- Interview in a quiet and private location to ensure confidentiality.
- Minimize distractions and interruptions to maintain focus and open communication.
- Listen attentively to the witness’s responses without interrupting.
- Demonstrate that you are actively listening by providing verbal and non-verbal feedback via facial expressions or other acknowledgments.
- Encourage the witness to speak openly by asking open-ended questions.
Use Non-leading Questions
- Ask neutral questions that allow the witness to provide their perspective without biasing their responses.
- Avoid leading questions that suggest a desired answer.
Probe for Details
Ask follow-up questions to gather comprehensive and detailed information.
Encourage the witness to recall sensory details, emotions, and the sequence of events.
- Take detailed notes during the interview to capture the witness’s statements accurately.
- Use technology, such as audio recording (with permission) or note-taking apps, to help maintain accurate records.
- Be mindful of the witness’s comfort level and emotional state.
- Avoid pressuring or intimidating the witness during the interview.
Manage Time Effectively
- Be conscious of the time constraints and ensure the interview stays on track.
- Prioritize questions based on their relevance to the case.
Politely ask the witness about any inconsistencies or contradictions in their statements.
Avoid accusatory language and allow the witness to explain any discrepancies.
Handle Sensitive Issues
- Approach delicate or sensitive topics with tact and sensitivity.
- Provide support or resources if the witness becomes upset or distressed.
Verify and Corroborate Information
- Cross-reference the witness’s statements with other evidence, statements, or witnesses if possible.
- Seek additional witnesses or documents that may corroborate or challenge the witness’s account.
Document the Interview
- Create a detailed interview report summarizing the witness’s statements and any relevant information.
- Include the date, time, location, and the names of all parties present during the interview.
- Keep personal opinions, assumptions, and biases out of the interview process.
- Focus on gathering facts and allowing the witness to provide their perspective.
- Don’t lead the witness or influence their statements.
Follow Legal and Ethical Guidelines
- Adhere to legal and ethical standards when conducting the interview.
- Respect confidentiality and privilege, as applicable.
Consult with Legal Counsel
If needed, discuss the progress and findings of the witness interview with your legal team before taking further action.
Remember, effective witness interviews contribute significantly to building a strong case. Thorough and unbiased interviews can help uncover essential details that may influence the outcome of the legal proceedings.
If you’re new to the private investigation business or a related field or need to develop witness interviewing skills. Thankfully, a wide variety of books help you learn the techniques.
While becoming an expert takes time and practice, the books we’ve selected can help you learn the fundamentals of the interviewing process. Understand who to talk to in various situations. Learn the techniques used by the pros to understand what a person’s behavior means and if they are lying or being deceptive. Also, learn to ask the right questions to extract the necessary information. Plus, understand how to differentiate between useful and unreliable information.
List of Books
Following is a list of books we recommend on the subject. All of the books are available to purchase on Amazon.com.
Practical Aspects of Interview and Interrogation
|Practical Aspects of Interview and Interrogation (Practical Aspects of Criminal and Forensic…
|Buy on Amazon
Another great book to help you learn about witness interviewing is the Practical Aspects of Interview and Interrogation, Second Edition (Practical Aspects of Criminal and Forensic Investigations). This book focuses on why false confessions exist and how to avoid them. It includes chapters on a variety of topics that are helpful to private investigators, such as:
- Telephone interviewing, asking questions over the phone
- False Confessions
- Field Interviewing witnesses in person
- Sexual Harassment Interviewing
- Confronting the alleged criminal
- Pre-employment Interviewing
- Legal aspects and considerations about the process
- Frequently Asked Questions
Principles of Kinesic Interview and Interrogation
|Principles of Kinesic Interview and Interrogation, Second Edition
|Buy on Amazon
The Principles of Kinesic Interview and Interrogation book explores basic and advanced interview and interrogation techniques. It focuses on understanding a person’s behavior based on their body language and writing. Some people believe that being successful as an interviewer is an innate ability. Either you have it, or you don’t. However, the author of this book proves that the techniques are learnable skills. Using the techniques in this book, you can do more than extract information; you can learn their behavior. It’s good for private detectives who need to develop skills in this area.
Investigative Interviewing: Psychology, Method and Practice
Written by an author with over 30 years of investigative interviewing experience, this book outlines a structured process that takes a non-accusatory approach, unlike most law enforcement-style interrogations. It avoids intimidation, coercion, and false confessions. Learn the fundamentals of interviewing, overcoming objections, understanding legal issues, and more. It focuses on getting results that are legally admissible in court.
Questions and Comments
If you have any questions or comments about interviewing witnesses, please post a comment below. Also, check out our other Private Investigator Books.