The Consequences For Untruthful Tactics During Interrogation Are Life-Altering

HB 23- 1042, Admissibility Standards For Juvenile Statements was heard by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, January 31. Below is the prepared testimony of Tom Pipal. Learn more about HB23-1042 and why we are supporting it.

Chairperson Weissman and Members of the Committee, thank you for allowing me to speak to you today about this very important issue.  

My name is Tom Pipal, and I am a resident of Parker, CO. I am here today to urge your support of HB23-1042. 

I am a former university professor of management at the University of Tulsa. For twelve years I worked as the head of corporate training and development at MCI-WorldCom. Also, I served as a board member and board chair of Court Appointed Special Advocates of Tulsa for thirteen years.  

As a professor, I taught a course on research methods including the creation of interview protocols and interviewing skills. As head of Corporate Training for MCI-WorldCom, I developed an interviewing skills course that was required of all managers, directors and vice-presidents (almost 7000 people). This addressed the specific context of conducting selection interviews and performance appraisals. And each year, Tulsa CASA (which represents children in cases of alleged abuse and/or neglect) conducts a 50-hour training program required for new volunteers; approximately 10 hours of that training addresses interviewing of both children and adults in this very emotional situation. 

There are a number of similarities among these three settings, but one of the most important is this. It is a fundamental psychological principle that has been formally recognized for over 70 years. When a power differential exists between the person asking the questions and the person answering them, the interviewee will unconsciously (and sometimes consciously) try to give the answer the interviewer wants or expects. The greater the power differential, the stronger this effect. Therefore, to get accurate/true results, interviewers must exert a conscious effort to minimize the cues they are giving to the interviewee. 

Further, we are all susceptible to this effect. But children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable in large part because their prefrontal cortex is only partially developed. This part of the brain controls decision-making, impulse control, and our ability to anticipate future events and appreciate the consequences of our actions.  

When law enforcement officers use untruthful tactics during interrogation, far too often, the consequences are life-altering. It seems to me that this has three significant negative consequences: 1) an innocent may be punished; 2) the true guilty party may still be at large; and 3) the credibility of our law enforcement process may be damaged with both the child and the larger community. Trust is hard won but easily lost. A child who loses trust in the inherent fairness of the system, who is punished even as they are trying to do what they perceive to be the right thing (i.e., telling the officer what he or she wants to hear), is a life potentially lost. And that is simply too high a price. 

Thank you for your time. And I fully support passage of HR 23-1042, Admissibility Standards for Juvenile Statements

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