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The do’s and don’ts for interviewing witnesses

We have already reviewed some details about an interviewing process here, in this article I will try to go a little deeper and talk about do-s and don’t-s, that every investigator or criminal psychologist should bear in mind while interviewing witness.


  • First of all an interviewer needs to establish comfortable and positive relationship between themselves and the interviewee. This has to be done in a way that will not possibly affect the interview itself. A witness has to be acknowledged about the responsibility they are about to take. Hence, overly informal and friendly relationship is not recommended.

  • Let them feel they are crucially important. When a person realizes how useful he or she can be in investigating a crime, they do their best and try to give as much and as accurate information as possible.
  • A “free recall” method can be very useful. It means not asking too many questions to the witness at start and just let them recall what they can. Too many questions can sometimes mislead their thinking. Researches show that when a witness can think freely and is allowed to remember just anything that can be in some connection with case they might recall something very useful, that they might think is not so important and they would not say it if they were questioned.
  • Use as much open questions as possible. In this way witness’s mind has some “free space” to think and it can lead to not only getting accurate answer to some particular question, but it can boost their memory to remember something else too.
  • Check that a the question is clear for witness, that they have correctly understood the question.


  • The very common mistake is when an interviewer asks biasing (suggestive) questions. It is especially harmful while interviewing a child. For instance – let’s imagine a child being asked following two questions:  “You love ice cream more that chocolate, don’t you?” and “Do you prefer ice cream or chocolate?”  I can say with 95% probability a child will say yes in answer for the first question, whereas in the second case they will start thinking about it, analyzing the question and give more accurate response. Of course children are more sensitive to this kind of questions, but this principle applies more or less to other types of witnesses too.
  • Try not to use closed questions. Of course in some situations it can be appropriate, but very often it can be counter-productive. The question “Was it Jason Martin holding a knife or Peter Nelson?” leads the witness to think about the two options of answer and if they don’t clearly remember the moment of time in question, they might not even consider than actually someone other was holding the knife.

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