How to Properly Seek an Admission of Guilt

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from the Association’s Fraud Examiners Manual, Third Edition. This article covers the discussion on Interview Theory and Application, pages 3.201 to 3.273.  

An interview is a question-and-answer session designed to elicit information. It differs from an ordinary conversation in that the interview is structured, not free-form, and is designed for a purpose. An interview may consist of only one question or a series of questions.

Question Typology 

The interviewer can ask five general types of questions: introductory, informational, assessment, closing, and admission-seeking. In routine interview situations in which the objective is to gather information from neutral or corroborative witnesses, only three of the five types normally will be asked: introductory, informational, and closing questions.

If the interviewer has reasonable cause to believe the respondent is not being truthful, assessment questions can be used. Assessment questions seek to establish the credibility of the respondent. These questions ask for agreement to matters that are against the principles of most honest people. They are designed primarily to get a verbal or non-verbal reaction from the respondent. From these reactions, the interviewer can decide whether or not the respondent is credible and whether or not it is necessary to proceed with admission-seeking questions.

If the interviewer has decided with reasonable cause that the subject is responsible for misdeeds, the inquiry should be taken to the next level with admission-seeking questions.

Admission-seeking Questions 

A transitional theme is necessary when proceeding from assessment to admission-seeking questions. Part of the purpose of this theme is to create in the mind of the miscreant that he has been caught. Under ideal circumstances, the interviewer will leave the room for a few minutes, saying he must “check on something.” If the interviewer has incriminating documents, copies can be placed inside a file folder and brought back to the interview. If no documents exist, it may be appropriate to fill the file folder with blank paper. When the interviewer returns to the room, the file folder can be placed on the desk, and the interviewer can ask, “Is there something that you would like to tell me about... ?”

If applicable, the interviewer should hand the documents to the respondent and ask for “comments.” Do not introduce the evidence or explain it. In about 20 percent of the cases, the miscreant will admit to incriminating conduct. If not, proceed with the interview.

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