Second of a 2-part series on Statement Analysis. Part 1: Statement Analysis: A Compelling Discovery Tool For Lawyers.
“Self-editing” is one concept used in Statement Analysis to assess truth and to signal whether a particular subject matter may justify further, or more precise, inquiry.
Another useful concept is recognizing whether a particular statement fits into certain parameters that suggest truthfulness. Statement Analysis experts point to 3 characteristics that frequently tend to accompany veracity. Conversely, their absence, or alteration, may suggest deception.
These 3 characteristics are: Use of the pronoun “I”; Responding in the appropriate tense (often the past tense); and response specificity. These are then often supplemented with the overriding principle: if a person responding doesn’t say something, don’t say it for them. In other words, don’t “read into” something that for whatever reason (consciously or subconsciously) has not be expressly stated. Some examples here are instructive:
Use of the pronoun “I”
Assume you ask your client: “Did you strike Mary?” It’s a simple, straightforward question. Some might even perceive an accusatory tone.
Contrast the following potential responses:
“Me? Hit someone? Really?”
“Hitting is not something in my nature.”
“No, I didn’t hit her. I wasn’t even in town.”
Of these responses, the last provides the highest suggestion of truth. It doesn’t mean it’s true, but a direct, specific denial that incorporates the use of the pronoun “I” is generally suggestive of truth. “I” is very personal, we tend to use it often in our day-to-day language, and it’s a completely natural description to use in response to a question that points directly to us as the subject matter.
Note the first two statements: neither uses “I”, neither expressly denies the act, and recall the general principle: If the person responding doesn’t deny something expressly, don’t supply the express denial for them. Very simply, neither the first nor second response directly denied anything.
Does this mean the responses are lies? Of course not. However, it probably does mean the question should be asked again, or followed-up on, or rephrased in order to elicit more detail.
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Use of The Appropriate (Often the past) tense
Also note the tense used in the first two responses. Neither response is appropriately matched to the tense of the question. The question is asking about a past event, which ought elicit a similarly tensed response. “Did you do it?” No, I didn’t.
Reliable denials don’t tend to be speculative or theoretical. Reliable denials are often straight to the point, sometimes emphatically stated (and repeated), and matched to the correct tense of the question.
Specificity in the Response
A third indicator of reliability is the specificity of the response – it’s obvious that the person being asked the question knows exactly what’s being asked of him/her and their response is intended to directly respond to it. There is no changing the adjectives used in the question, there’s no attempt to heighten (or downplay) the content of the question, there’s no attempt to change the subject.
Imagine a case of a simple theft. We ask: “Did you steal $5 from the register on Monday?”
Consider these potential responses:
“That missing money isn’t my fault.”
“Look, drawers are constantly short, this sort of thing happens all the time.”
“No, I didn’t steal anything.”
Note that in the first two responses, a few subtleties are at play. First, the nature of “stealing” that is included in the question is altered in the response: it’s not “stolen”, it’s either “missing money” or the drawer is “short”. Also, of the three responses only the last one directly confronts the question – a question itself that could be seen as an accusation. Note also that the first 2 responses are de-personalized (absence of “I”). On their face, the first 2 denials (or denial-like statements) just don’t appear as reliable as the third.
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Statement analysis experts often say that it is virtually impossible for a guilty person, in the course of ordinary conversation, to come right out and definitively state: “I didn’t do it.” Perhaps we humans are hard-wired or socialized to find lying unpleasant so we subconsciously avoid it in our language. Whatever the reason, it’s a behavior pattern worth recognizing.
Of course, statement analysis is far from 100%. None of it is definitive and, in the case of sophisticated deceivers, it can be manipulated. However, for lawyers who are looking for additional ways to help them better reach the truth (from their own client) or discover the truth (from opposing litigant), Statement Analysis can be a useful tool to add to the process.
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