The use of visuals during interrogation requires a custom-made approach

Dr Willem-Jan Verhoeven, Dr Gabry Vanderveen and Simone Kruit MSc of Erasmus School of Law collaborated with Dr Lotte van Dillen from Leiden University in researching the use of visuals during suspect interrogation. The report shows that visual proof is often assessed differently than written descriptions of the crime. Therefore, the researches argue for preconditions to clarify visuals and in this way guarantee equal opportunities for creating, obtaining and using visuals in the interrogation room

Drawings, maps, videos, pictures, virtual reconstructions: during interrogation visuals are used on an increasingly large and diverse scale. This will probably only increase due to the growing availability of video cameras on mobile devices. However, little is known about the effects of the use of visuals on the suspect’s process attitude and the choice of a specific interrogation technique. For that reason, this research has been conducted as commissioned by the Police & Science research programme.

Visuals in the interrogation room
The research report provides insights for interrogation practice. It provides insight in the availability and use of visuals during suspect interrogation. It is striking that camera images are often present but also frequently incorrectly interpreted as ‘evidence verité’ (as it would have really happened). Certain image characteristics also appear to affect interrogators. For example, the shocking photograph of mortal remains and a suspect’s recognizability on camera footage have an impact on the declaration of guilt or innocence and both the emotions and moral indignation of interrogators.

The nature of the evidence has an effect on the suspects process attitude. For example, guilty test suspects confessed their guilt more often after being confronted with visual evidence compared to reading textual evidence. Innocent test suspects were found to be afraid of a (wrongful) conviction more often after being confronted with the camera footage (see the attached image).

The researchers conclude that the responsibility for problematizing, interpreting and qualifying visuals is now usually placed with the defense. They wonder whether that responsibility should mainly lie with the Public Prosecution Service and with those who create or deploy the visuals. Additionally, the researchers emphasize the importance of proper preparation, explanation and use of visuals during interrogation.