Interviewing Witnesses

Who is a Witness?

A witness is a person who observes a crime taking place. The general rule is that all persons are qualified to be witnesses and to testify before a court of law. This includes anyone who:

  • Saw the crime taking place.
  • Heard the accused saying something that would incriminate him.
  • Knew or saw the accused preparing to commit the crime.
  • Was a victim of the crime.
  • Has facts or knowledge about circumstances surrounding commission of the offence.
Investigative Interviewing

Investigative interviewing is the questioning of witnesses to obtain complete, accurate and reliable information. It is also done to discover the truth about the matter under investigation. Therefore, an investigative interviewer should develop interpersonal and tactical skills. These skills will assist the interviewer to ask the right questions. They will also enable the interviewer to get the most complete and accurate response. The interviewer must therefore act in a manner which encourages the interviewee to tell the truth.

Interviewing witnesses is important because:

  1. Real and documentary evidence make up about 20 percent of all evidence presented in court. On the other hand, testimonial evidence accounts for 80 percent.
  2. The investigator cannot function without information. The investigator therefore relies on the public and those involved in a case to get information.
  3. Interviews help you make the most of the current crime by connecting the current events to past or future events.
  4. Interviewing helps the witness recall the events.
  5. Interviews build the confidence of the witness in telling and retelling the story. Further, the interview is the first preparation of the witness to testify in court.
Qualities of a good interviewerInterviewing
  1. Professionalism – An interviewer has to be extremely professional. This builds his/her credibility in the eyes of the witness. The interviewer should therefore show commitment to the interview process.
  2. Integrity – One of the most important virtues of a good interviewer is integrity. The interview process may lead to disclosure of aspects of the private lives of the witnesses. The interviewer should therefore be discreet and confidential about such revelations. He should also avoid using information in ways that are inappropriate.
  3. Patience and Persistence – Some witnesses may be shy or reluctant to tell their story and this can be frustrating. A good interviewer should press and get the story of the witness. However, he should not push the witness too much or lose patience. A good interviewer’s mantra, therefore, is that there is no option of giving up.
  4. Self-drive – a good interviewer should be able to work tirelessly on their own without waiting for someone else to direct their work.
  5. Analytical – a good interviewer should be able to apply active listening skills. This also includes critical listening and evaluative listening.
Principles of Investigative Interviewing

There are 6 principles of ethical investigative interviewing.

  1. Prior Investigation Principle – The interviewer must be sufficiently aware of the breadth and depth of knowledge necessary to substantiate an argument.
  2. Sincerity Principle – Tell the witness the truth. Do not bluff, evade questions, confuse the witness or use pretense.
  3. Disclosure Principle – Disclose to the witness any sources of any assertions you make to him.
  4. Open-Mindedness Principle – The witness should be protected from your personal biases and prejudices.
  5. Tolerance Principle – Interviewer must be able to cope with rebuttal and resistance by the witness.
  6. Integrity Principle – Your personal goals as an interviewer to unravel the case should not blind you to your moral obligations.
Basic rules of Questioning
  • Vocabulary – Use simple language. Language should also be unambiguous and jargon-free.
  • Relevance – Each question must have a purpose and not be used to fill time. An interview plan and active listening will eliminate repetitive questioning.
  • Pace – Give the witness time to understand each question, think what knowledge they have of the matter, formulate the answer and deliver it.
  • Interruptions – Stop any tendency to interrupt the interviewee as this will break their train of thought and stop the flow of information.
  • Control – If the witness strays from the point direct him or her firmly but tactfully.
  • Open Ended Questions – Encourages people to give longer answers which result in more information.
  • Probing Questions – Employ the “5 wives” and “1 husband” as these invite explanation. (What, Where, When, Why, Who, How).

Author: DidiWamukoya

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