Breaks in the Action
Try not to take many breaks, if any at all. If things are progressing well then you are wearing the suspect down. When you take a break you're giving him a breather, a chance to recoup, to re-assemble the defenses. Don't rush it, but eventually you'll want to segue from the casual ice-breaking talk into the investigation at hand. Once you've done that, every break you take is like giving a boxer who's getting his ass kicked a sudden bell to end the round. That's time to sit, hydrate, cool down, re-group. If you feel there is progress and you can see the subject displaying the "buy signs," that is the worst time to walk out of the room. Stay in there, run your two-minute offense, and don't let him up for air!
Once you've started to see the surrender signs, move in for the kill-the swallowing, the quavering voice, maybe even tears, means it's time to finish this suspect off. Move closer to him, lower your voice instead of raising it (that implies confidence, and can help establish a kind of "soundproof room" atmosphere), and remind the suspect that it's OK, that telling the truth is the right thing to do.
Let her talk-don't interrupt unless she hesitates or stops, at which time you just say, "Go on, I'm listening."
When she's given you as much as you think she will give, go over it with her: "I want to make sure I have it right."
Don't go reading Miranda right away. This is the topic for another article altogether, but it bears mentioning here. Go over the confession, again re-assuring her for doing the right thing, and then take a formal statement, with the Miranda warnings in the beginning.
There are times when you don't get the "entire" confession. Your offender might confess only to having been on or near the scene. He's minimizing his involvement. That's called a "self-serving" confession, and if you can build a strong case against the suspect in other ways, then take it and be happy. Sometimes a self-serving confession, when displayed before a jury who hears all the other testimony and evidence, can be just as damning, or more so, because it proves the subject is lying in court.
Don't berate-the game's not over. There's no need to go calling the suspect every name you feel he is now that you've gotten the confession. Major cases are full of incidents where subjects call the detective from jail while awaiting trial to provide more information like another suspect, the missing weapon, etc. Keep the door open. There will be time to gloat later, to wave goodbye to him on his way to prison, and to soak up the "victory."
Ramesh Nyberg is a recently retired 27-year police veteran in Miami-Dade County. He spent the last 21 years of his career in Homicide. He also is a certified law enforcement instructor with experience teaching Homicide Investigation and Interview/Interrogation classes.