Suppose you are being questioned as a suspect in a crime. The police will draw up an official record of this interrogation, which will be added to the file as important evidence. You assume that this document reflects exactly what has been said. But is that really so?
It’s rare that we get to follow a criminal trial on TV. through the program court can do it. In November 2021, we get unique insight into a case brought before the Leuven Assize Court. Spread over three episodes, we were able to follow the Alinda Van der Cruysen trial, which took place in November 2020.
Alinda was on trial for the double murders of two of her elderly relatives. Couple Jules and Jane were brutally murdered in their home, with financial gain as a suspected motive. The crimes took place in 1991, but for years there was no trace of the perpetrator(s) and in 2004 the case was closed without trial. The case was reopened in 2014 and old case The team started working on it. Among other things, DNA research was again carried out and thanks to new technologies, a DNA match was found with Jules and Jane’s eldest niece: Alinda. However, Alinda denies any involvement with her to this day.
I’m not going to talk about Alinda’s guilt or innocence. I prefer to delve into a comment made by the Head of Assizes during the trial. In the second episode there was a special fragment where a former suspect was questioned by Alinda’s lawyer. In response to the former suspect’s indignation over what would be on file, the President stated:Policemen write the things they hear and rarely invent muchThis seems obvious, but is it? What do we actually know about it?
there is located What to say about the police “invention”, but I’ll leave this part of the comment for a while and go assuming the police record the things you hear. It is not entirely clear whether the president means that the police essence From the conversation or whether he meant to write things down accurately as You hear it. The latter can be challenged, especially when pronouncing (ie preparing an official report) interrogation. Interrogation reports are almost always summaries of interrogation. Seldom are complete accounts of what has been said; In particular, the most important paragraphs of the interrogation are recorded in writing.
Diversity of approach
The official report contains a number of formal requirements stipulated in the Code of Criminal Procedure (such as a mandatory date) but for text There are few requirements for questioning. Interrogations happen to be written down as a monologue, or they are written as “question and answer,” or something in between. In Belgium, according to former Police Chief Marc Boxstelli (2019), the monologue model is more commonly used, although the question-and-answer model is increasingly used in important cases or at crucial stages of interrogation. But until then, the answers are rather a summary of what the detective said
So not everything that is said in the interrogation is written down. It is questionable whether the officers responsible for the reports have access to the same official report and its completeness. Dutch researchers Marijke Malch and colleagues conducted research in this regard.
Investigation of official reports of interrogations of suspects
In 2010, Mallesh and his colleagues offered the same suspected interrogation of five seasoned officers and asked them to prepare a report on the matter as they would in their practice. The official reports (PVs) of these five officers turned out to be very different from each other, even though they showed the same video interrogation. One PV was set up in monologue style, while the other four followed the question-and-answer style to a greater or lesser extent. They differed significantly in the number of questions scored: the responses to the questions and answers contained 14 (22%) to 55 (86%) of the 64 questions asked. Generally PV contains 40% to 60% less Words from the actual interrogation.
These results show that by no means everything is recorded in PV. BUT: This PV was prepared for scientific research. What about PVs that are placed “in real life”?
Official report vs. registration
In 2015, Malsch and his colleagues went further and compared the contents of 47 official Dutch reports with audio-visual recordings of suspicious related interrogations. The question-and-answer form turned out to be the most widely used and only 2% to 37% of the questioning ended up in the official report. As in the 2010 study, it appears that a significant portion of the questions asked were not included in the report, and follow-up questions in particular were omitted. The general story of the interrogation was in the police report, but the investigators also found changes, omissions, and additions. Furthermore, it turns out that the suspect’s wording is often changed during the casting, despite guidance using the interrogator’s word choice as much as possible.
Although no similar research has been carried out in Belgium yet, it is possible that the findings of Belgian police officers on interrogations of suspects will be similar.
Thus the interrogations are reported in different ways depending on who is responsible for the report and are rarely shown as they were conducted. Is that a problem?
In another study, Mallesh and colleagues (2010) showed that a prosecutor’s style can influence subsequent decisions such as culpability or the evaluation of an interrogation. The researchers provided three of five formal reports from the study described above (2010) to legally trained readers. One group read the PV monologue style, the second group read the more comprehensive style of PV questions and answers with 55 questions, and a third group read the PV question and answer style that falls between the above-mentioned PVs in the style. When readers had to make a judgment about the suspect’s guilt and the plausibility of the story, the groups came up with a different judgment. Frequently, readers of the more comprehensive Q&A judged that the suspect’s story made less sense and that the suspect was guilty. Readers of the monologue rated the interrogation as fairer and less directional than readers of other reports. So there were important differences in the ratings while PVs related to the exact same interrogation.
The dangers of summary hearings
Summarizing an interrogation and omitting to ask the question carries risks. It becomes difficult to elicit suggestive questions, and it is also unclear whether forensic knowledge was actually present during interrogation or whether it was (inadvertently) shared by investigators. Moreover, when summarizing the interrogation, misinterpretations by the officer can find their way into the police report and potentially relevant information disappear because the officer in charge of the report writes what seems appropriate at the time. However, relevant information can vary greatly over the course of the criminal investigation.
Is there anything to do!
Recommendations have been made in the literature to make the reporting of suspicious interrogations as accessible, effective and correct as possible (see, for example, Malsch et al., 2015). The obligatory audio or audiovisual recording of interrogations is always mentioned, a practice which has already become the norm in various places abroad. In Belgium it is possible to record interrogations and this also happens, but only in a small part of the interrogations conducted annually.
This practice is less rosy
The President’s observation in the Alinda van der Croesen case shows that there is likely to be an impression that interrogations in a criminal file are factual representations. However, scientific research shows that this is not always the case and that this can also have consequences for truth-seeking. Police reports on interrogations of suspects are given an important role in the criminal justice process, and so it is appropriate to look at them critically, especially when there are more red flags in a criminal investigation.
Buxtelli, M.; (2019). Operation report. Maklu Publishers.
Malsch, M., de Keijser, JW, Kranendonk, P. R., & de Gruijter, M. (2010). Interrogation in writing or on tape? The results of the “verbal” interrogations on the lawyer’s judgment. Dutch Lawyer Magazine, 37, 2402-2407.
Malsch, M., Kranendonk, R., De Keijser, J., Elffers, H., Komter, M., & De Boer, M. (2015). Watching, Listening and Reading: The Effect of Pictures, Sound, and Writing on the Judgment of Interrogation of the Suspect. Police, Science and the NSCR. https://www.politieenwetenschap.nl/publicatie/politiewetenschap/2015/kijken-luisteren-lezen-251/
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