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Documenting and Reporting a Confession with a Signed Statement.

A Guide for Law Enforcement

Two seasoned detectives interrogate (1) To search, sum or count records in a file. See query.

(2) To test the condition or status of a terminal or computer system.
 a suspect who initially denies all involvement in the heinous hei·nous  
Grossly wicked or reprehensible; abominable: a heinous crime.

[Middle English, from Old French haineus, from haine, hatred, from
 crime under investigation. Employing a ruse Ruse (r`sĕ), city (1993 pop. 170,209), NE Bulgaria, on the Danube River bordering Romania. The chief river port of Bulgaria, it is also an industrial and communications center. , conducting a role-play, revealing evidence collected, exaggerating potential outcomes, and using other cleverly played exchanges enable the detectives to reverse the suspect's position and eventually obtain a confession A Confession is a short work on questions of religion by Leo Tolstoy. It was first distributed in Russia in 1882.

Consisting of autobiographical notes on the development of the author's belief, A Confession
. The incident ends with one of the detectives pushing a pad of paper and pencil across the table and instructing the suspect to "write it down."

This scene is played out almost weekly in a popular television series, depicting the events impacting a homicide unit within a large police department. Hollywood dramatizations provide the viewer with an entertaining glimpse of police activities, such as the taking of a confession and its importance to the solution of criminal investigations, but usually fall short in describing the details surrounding these events. Real-life investigators know that their job is not complete until they have recorded the events properly in accurate reports and signed statements, which contain the relevant facts and admissions necessary for expedient prosecution or further cooperative efforts. [1]


Most subjects feel an inherent need to lie or cover up their involvement in crimes. The ability to develop rapport with these subjects and induce cooperation represent skills that some investigators have mastered to increase their success rates for case resolution. [2] These investigators also recognize the importance of taking accurate and extensive notes during interviews. Moreover, departmental policy may necessitate preparation of an interview log (a document containing pertinent information about the individuals involved and actions taken during the interview) for certain situations. For example, interview logs often accompany interviews in which the advice of rights warning and waiver are required and when a suspect is interviewed on the premise of the investigating agency, even though not under arrest.

While seasoned investigators will attest To solemnly declare verbally or in writing that a particular document or testimony about an event is a true and accurate representation of the facts; to bear witness to. To formally certify by a signature that the signer has been present at the execution of a particular writing so as  to the excitement, exhilaration, and relief that often accompany the admission of wrongdoing wrong·do·er  
One who does wrong, especially morally or ethically.

 by a criminal, they realize that they must follow this process with a thorough and accurate recording of the confession in the form of an investigator's report. Investigators also know that they can further enhance these reports by including signed statements. As with all investigative techniques, it is important to anticipate the legal requirements faced by prosecutors who inherit the results of evidence collection and are responsible for securing criminal conviction. They will rely on these reports and signed statements as proof of the admissions to violations of criminal code. Therefore, investigators must properly document these events in a suitable format.


Once subjects have confessed and provided a detailed explanation of their role in a particular crime, their signed statements will further support the official report to follow. Written in the first person, the statement follows a logical format and contains the subject's own words as much as possible. [3]

The Opening

The opening paragraph identifies the subject, the investigators, and the nature of the crime. The second paragraph further describes the subject's education and ability to comprehend the statement he prepares and signs.

The Body

The body of the statement employs language that the subject used previously in the confession or can understand. Because most subjects are not professional writers, investigators may assist in the formulation of these sentences. However, investigators should avoid composing statements that do not fit the subject's level of intelligence and language abilities or that contradict previous admissions. The statement should describe fully important general facts, including the events leading up to the crime, the subject's intent and motivation, how the subject committed the crime, and crime-specific items, such as the amount of money stolen or number of people victimized. The statement should reflect the same relevant facts recorded in the investigator's official report of the confession, but may summarize some details succinctly suc·cinct  
adj. suc·cinct·er, suc·cinct·est
1. Characterized by clear, precise expression in few words; concise and terse: a succinct reply; a succinct style.

 as long as the omission of this information does not change the context of the statement. For example, the following type of information may appear in a signed statement: In 1999, I came up with the idea to obtain money from my then employer, XYZ XYZ  
interj. Informal
Used to indicate to someone that the zipper of his or her pants is open.

[ex(amine) y(our) z(ipper).]
 Insurance Company, by submitting false claims using the fictitious names Noun 1. fictitious name - (law) a name under which a corporation conducts business that is not the legal name of the corporation as shown in its articles of incorporation
DBA, Doing Business As, assumed name
 of John Doe John Doe

formerly, any plaintiff; now just anybody. [Am. Pop. Usage: Brewer Dictionary, 329]

See : Everyman
 and Mary Jane and my knowledge of internal procedures for approval of claims payments. From March to June, I acquired over $250,000 in payments pursuant to my scheme to defraud To make a Misrepresentation of an existing material fact, knowing it to be false or making it recklessly without regard to whether it is true or false, intending for someone to rely on the misrepresentation and under circumstances in which such person does rely on it to his or  XYZ Insurance Company. I deposited the claims checks into the fictitious-name accounts that I had established at First National Bank and subsequently withdrew this money for my personal use. However, the investigator's official report undoubtedly would contain greater detail of each fraudulent event, painstakingly obtained from a review of specific items of evidence with the cooperating subject. [4]

If appropriate, a paragraph reflecting the subject's acknowledgment of wrongdoing, regret, and intention to continue cooperating can further demonstrate the subject's ability to understand the consequences of his actions. Also, investigators possibly could use such a statement to discredit later attempts by defense attorneys arguing "state of mind" and "insanity" pleas.

The Approval

Whether typed by law enforcement personnel or handwritten hand·write  
tr.v. hand·wrote , hand·writ·ten , hand·writ·ing, hand·writes
To write by hand.

[Back-formation from handwritten.]

Adj. 1.
 by the subject, the statement should be single-spaced and ultimately reviewed (read aloud) by the subject who will initial corrections and write a final sentence acknowledging his understanding of the statement. I have read this (number of pages) page statement, have initialed all corrections, and I am signing it because it is true and correct.

Once the subject has completed the statement and has read it back to the investigators, the subject and the witnesses (who are typically the investigators) should sign and date the document. Occasionally, a second witness may include a third-party individual (nonlaw enforcement), such as a relative of the subject, a lawyer, or a representative from the victim business/institution where the interrogation interrogation

In criminal law, process of formally and systematically questioning a suspect in order to elicit incriminating responses. The process is largely outside the governance of law, though in the U.S.
 occurred. The second witness signs as a witness to the subject's signature, and not necessarily the subject's admission. Investigators may have signed statements transcribed, with quotations, into the body of their official report, which details the entire interview. The original signed statement is then preserved as documentary evidence A type of written proof that is offered at a trial to establish the existence or nonexistence of a fact that is in dispute.

Letters, contracts, deeds, licenses, certificates, tickets, or other writings are documentary evidence.
. Like other forms of evidence, investigators should refer to departmental policy or seek prosecutor advice before furnishing copies of signed statements to subjects, their attorneys, or other third parties.


False Statements

Newly assigned investigators and law enforcement trainees often wonder how to document statements that subjects make prior to a confession, such as false statements or denials that commonly dominate the first part of the interview. The extent to which investigators should record this information in a final report generally relates to the completeness of the confession and the investigators' abilities to corroborate To support or enhance the believability of a fact or assertion by the presentation of additional information that confirms the truthfulness of the item.

The testimony of a witness is corroborated if subsequent evidence, such as a coroner's report or the testimony of other
 the admissions with other evidence. After providing an initial denial, and other misleading information, (subject's name) acknowledged he/she wanted to cooperate with the (name of law enforcement agency Noun 1. law enforcement agency - an agency responsible for insuring obedience to the laws
FBI, Federal Bureau of Investigation - a federal law enforcement agency that is the principal investigative arm of the Department of Justice
) and thereafter admitted his/her involvement in this matter as follows illustrates how investigators can summarize these false statements and other extraneous ex·tra·ne·ous  
1. Not constituting a vital element or part.

2. Inessential or unrelated to the topic or matter at hand; irrelevant. See Synonyms at irrelevant.

 items, such as rapport-building discussions, in their final official reports.

However, in the case of a subject who confesses and thereafter becomes a cooperating witness for the government, investigators must remember that prosecutors have an ethical and constitutional obligation to provide defense attorneys with any exculpatory evidence Exculpatory evidence is the evidence favorable to the defendant in a criminal trial, which clears or tends to clear the defendant of guilt. In many countries such as the United States, if the police or prosecutor has found such evidence, he/she must disclose it to the defendant.  and with any information that reflects neg atively on the credibility of this witness. Although the previously suggested sentence is legally acceptable to this point, a codefendant's defense attorney subsequently may seek greater detail of these denials or false statements in an attempt to discredit this witness and the government's version of these events. Investigators can anticipate this possibility and document the misleading statements more thoroughly in the official report, followed by a transitional sentence which identifies the subject's acknowledgment of wrongdoing, willingness to cooperate, and subsequent confession.

Multiple Subjects

Some cooperative subjects will provide false information during and after a confession, which investigators always should include in their official reports. Cases involving multiple subjects typically include cooperating subjects who redirect blame or exaggerate coconspirators' roles in an attempt to minimize their own exposure. The investigator's report should include this information (the totality of the circumstances will determine later each subject's role and resultant prosecution), along with the factual details set forth in the confession. The report concludes with a transcription of the signed statement, prepared after the confession. Investigators should maintain interview notes and logs as supporting records for the official report until the matter is adjudicated.

Anticipating the confessor's later refusal to take the witness stand in a subsequent joint trial constitutes another consideration for signed statements in cases involving two or more subjects. In this situation, legal representatives may consider any references to codefendants in the confessor's signed statement as prejudicial prej·u·di·cial  
1. Detrimental; injurious.

2. Causing or tending to preconceived judgment or convictions:
 to their clients' rights and possibly restrict using the statement as evidence. Several options exist for investigators to appropriately address this issue. One involves simply preparing the statement and then allowing prosecutors the discretion to redact To edit sensitive documents before release to the public. With today's heightened awareness of the legal implications of exposing information, it is common to redact even e-mail messages before sending them.  portions that they cannot use. Alternatively, investigators may incorporate a paragraph into the statement (just after the introductory paragraphs) in which the confessor CONFESSOR, evid. A priest of some Christian sect, who receives an account of the sins of his people, and undertakes to give them absolution of their sins.
 states his involvement in the crimes without naming the coconspirators. Another option involves preparing two separate statements, one relating all details of the offense as furnished by the confessor, and the other containing only admissions of the confessor that r elate solely to his guilt. [5] Whichever method they employ, investigators should remain consistent throughout the entire investigation.


Law enforcement officials understand the importance of sufficiently reporting investigative results to withstand the scrutiny of the legal system. A properly documented confession accompanied by a well-prepared signed statement increases the likelihood of swift and successful prosecution of criminals. Although many television and movie depictions of police obtaining confessions inaccurately portray or fail to emphasize this aspect of the confession, it remains a necessary part of effective police work.


(1.) The author based this article on the knowledge he gained during 12 years in the FBI's Detroit, Michigan “Detroit” redirects here. For other uses, see Detroit (disambiguation).
Detroit (IPA: [dɪˈtʰɹɔɪt]) (French: Détroit, meaning strait
, office, participating in numerous subject interviews and over 100 confessions involving bank robbery The examples and perspective in this article or section may not represent a worldwide view of the subject.
Please [ improve this article] or discuss the issue on the talk page.
Bank robbery is the crime of robbing a bank.
, violent crime, and white collar crime white collar crime n. a generic term for crimes involving commercial fraud, cheating consumers, swindles, insider trading on the stock market, embezzlement and other forms of dishonest business schemes.  investigations.

(2.) For additional information on interrogations, see David Vessel, "Conducting Successful Interrogations," FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin is published monthly by the FBI Law Enforcement Communication Unit[1], with articles of interest to state and local law enforcement personnel. , October 1998, 1-6; and Michael R. Napier Michael Napier is a FBI veteran of 27 years, who worked as Supervisory Special Agent, field office program manager and violent crime assessor for the FBI's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC).  and Susan H. Adams, "Magic Words to Obtain Confessions," FBI Low Enforcement Bulletin, October 1998, 11-15.

(3.) For illustrative purposes and to avoid confusion in the article, the author refers to subjects as males.

(4.) When investigators use evidentiary ev·i·den·tia·ry  
adj. Law
1. Of evidence; evidential.

2. For the presentation or determination of evidence: an evidentiary hearing.

Adj. 1.
 items during a witness interview or subject confession, they should avoid exposing original evidence to the interviewee and potentially tainting its forensic value for future use at legal proceedings All actions that are authorized or sanctioned by law and instituted in a court or a tribunal for the acquisition of rights or the enforcement of remedies. . Investigators should prepare working copies or photographs of these materials beforehand in anticipation of the necessity for witness identification.

(5.) FBI Special Agent's Legal Handbook.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Federal Bureau of Investigation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2001
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