Selling a Confession

Selling a Confession

By:  Detective Jon Rappa

While teaching an interview and interrogation class, a student of mine once asked me how I was so successful at getting someone to tell me the truth. That student was using all the techniques he learned through training and observation of other senior detectives. He was using themes, justifications, and alternate choice questions; all the various techniques he learned over the years.  Despite this, he was still having trouble getting his suspects to come clean.

I told him that he needed to sell his confession, more importantly, he needed to sell his theme.  I explained that this involves more than just reciting a justification in the form of a monologue; it is how you deliver that justification that makes the difference.  The theme based justification needs to be sold and the suspect needs to make that purchase.  

Before we can learn how to sell a theme, we must first learn what a theme based justification is and the importance of theme based justifications.  After all, we are not really selling a confession; we are however, selling a theme based justification.  This is your “sales pitch”. How well you can sell the justification will determine how many more cases you can close with a confession.  

A theme based justification is a psychological excuse for why the suspect did what they did. The theme is often delivered by the interrogator in monologue form.  Often times, this monologue can last 10, 15, even 30 minutes long. Because these monologues require the interrogator to be long winded, the gift of gab can help tremendously.

For an example, we will use a home invasion scenario.  Let’s assume that Blake, Will, and Steve committed a home invasion robbery of a drug dealer.  All 3 suspects unlawfully entered the residence; Will was armed with a handgun. During the robbery, the victim fought back and the gun accidentally discharged.  No one was hit.

During your investigation you learn that Blake has never been arrested.  You decide to use a “peer pressure” theme based justification. You deliver this monologue in a 3rd person format, telling a story of someone else’s experience.

“Blake, I have investigated hundreds of scenarios just like this and one thing I’ve seen in most of these incidents’, is that there is always someone who did not want to be there. Especially in multi-offender cases.  Blake, I had a case once where one of the guys involved drove his friends to a store and was told to wait outside. Although he knew his friends were up to no good, he had no idea that his friends were going to hurt anyone.  In this case they did. His friends actually shot someone.

This kid did not sign up for this and thank God he told me this. You see, he had no intention to be involved in the shooting and had he not been honest with me, things could have gone really bad for him.  Blake, I think you fall into that category. I don’t think you are the type of person who goes out looking to harm anyone. I think you were put in a bad spot”

For every crime, there are literally dozens of theme based justifications that we can offer.  Although it is important to understand the theory of theme based justifications, it is more important to understand how to apply the theory.  This is where a decent interrogator becomes a great interrogator.  The ability to sell your theme based justification, aka your “sales pitch”, can bring your interview to confession rate to another level. The way you deliver the monologue means everything and is the backbone of this article.  It is one thing to tell someone that they may have committed a burglary because they are homeless and hungry; it is another thing to sell that idea to them with passion, conviction, enthusiasm, and believability.  

The first and most important rule of selling your theme based justification:

Don’t be a robot.  

You must deliver your theme with passion and conviction.  Your delivery must be believable. In other words, if you are suggesting that your suspect fired the weapon because he was only trying to scare his victim (scare vs kill theme), then you must believe that theme.  Not that you actually believe this, but you must convince your suspect that you truly believe he was only trying to scare him.  This is done not only through words but through voice inflection and tonality.

Remember, words only make up 7% of personal communication.  The rest is through body language and tone of voice. If you rely on words alone, you are missing out on the other 93% of personal communication that could help you garner a confession and get to the truth. Your sales pitch has to consist of gestures, verbal and non-verbal empathy, a caring or enthusiastic tone of voice, and other non-verbal communication cues that make your theme believable.  

A great sale happens during the transfer of enthusiasm. If a salesperson does not love in his product and does not believe in his product then he may not sell as much of his product as he would like.  However, when a salesperson gives off the appearance that he loves his product, he or she is more likely to sell that product. This is the transfer of enthusiasm principal.

Likewise, during an interrogation where a theme based justification is used,  the same transfer of enthusiasm principal applies. If the interrogator acts like a robot and simply recites his monologue, they diminish the chances of garnering a confession.  But, when an interrogator gives the appearance that he believes in the theme and if the interrogator delivers that theme with conviction and passion, the transfer of enthusiasm occurs and the chances of garnering the confession increases exponentially.

Jon Rappa is a 17 year law enforcement veteran and is an instructor for Advanced Police Concepts.  He has over 10 years investigative experience and is currently assigned to the robbery/homicide division at the Gainesville Police Department.