A Criminal Mind: Benefits of understanding statement analysis techniques

What is it about some statements that makes you skeptical about the veracity of the witness? And how important is this for defence lawyers?

I first encountered the concept of “statement analysis” quite by accident, without knowing that it is a technique. The case was a domestic. The complainant said my client had thrown her down the stairs.

The Crown’s offer was sweet, but the client insisted on going to trial. How good were my client’s chances? I looked at the complainant’s statement – 25 pages long. After 17 pages of slagging off my client and detailing how horrible he was, the complainant began a brief outline of her very serious allegation: being thrown down the stairs. I realized that her focus was off.

Crossing things out is something I have always found suggestive of deception, especially where the writer switches to a word more favourable to him or herself. Since the witness wants you to skip over what they crossed out, I almost always cross-examine on the cross-outs.

Lawyers can benefit from understanding the techniques used in statement analysis because it helps them prepare for negotiations and for court. You may be able to show the Crown or the judge why you think the witness is being deceptive, is concealing evidence, or was involved in the crime.

I am in the midst of reading quite an interesting book: Psychology of Criminal Investigations: The Search for the Truth, by Michel St-Yves and Michel Tanguay, translated by Jeffrey Miller. There is a brief but useful chapter on analyzing written statements and some useful tips.

Firstly, St-Yves and Tanguay consider that a statement should have an introduction, a “development” or middle section setting out the alleged crime, and some conclusion, perhaps about the end of the incident and calling the police. St-Yves and Tanguay say that in a normally constructed statement the description of the crime takes about 50 per cent of the statement. It is all wrong, as in the witness’ statement above, if the history of the relationship so consumes the witness that the police officer wearies while waiting for an account of the incident.

The use of pronouns and articles: the witness should feel comfortable naming a person if he knows that person’s name. The “ex-co-worker” has a name, one’s own child is not usually “the baby” – this distances the writer from the events, and detaches the speaker or writer from them.

Verb tenses: normally the allegation is in the past tense. To use the present tense is 
suggestive of imagining or creating the narrative.

Narrative connectors like “then” and “after” suggest that the witness has omitted something that he would like to avoid discussing. Other giveaways are “because” and “later.”

Literature on statement analysis cautions that a deceptive person may emphasize their own veracity: “As God is my witness,” or “I swear on the graves of my children.” The latter is particularly difficult if the children are alive.

Also, an account of events has to be logical. You cannot be left wondering how someone got in, how someone got out, and how the whole chain of events occurred. If the witness’ account is confusing, that may be indicative of deception.

There have been notorious cases where a person let slip during the investigation knowledge that the missing person was dead. When Scott Peterson was asked about his marriage to Laci, he answered, “The first word that comes to mind is, you, know, glorious, I mean we took care of each other very well. She was amazing. She is amazing.”

There is a three-day course in SCAN (Scientific Content Analysis) offered by Avinoam Sapir, which some police officers take. The advertising on the Internet says that an officer can send out a “view questionnaire” in written form to 100 people, have it faxed back, and in less than an hour the investigator will be able to review the questionnaires and solve the case.

Another place where information is available on statement analysis is, of course, the Internet. You can find online “Statement Analysis: What Do Suspects’ Words Really Reveal?” by FBI Special Agent Susan H. Adams at www.fbi.gov/publica

Rosalind Conway is a certified specialist in criminal litigation. She can be reached at rosalind.
[email protected].

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