Statement Analysis

What is Statement Analysis? How do I use it to detect deception? What can or cannot be detected in an e-mail, text message, written or verbal conversation. I will explain what Statement Analysis is and how I use this diagnostic tool in the work I do on a therapeutic and forensic level.

Statement Analysis comes under many different headings, CBCA ( Content Based Criteria Analysis), Statement Validity Analysis, Linguistic Analysis just to name a few. The headings may be different but the analysis of the verbal or written statement is the same. The analysis and the procedures the examiner undertakes is the same. It is the structured and systematic analysis of language, written, verbal, e-mails or texts.

I look for commitment or lack of commitment and deception if present, to the persons words and statements.  The Germans generally are credited with the advancement of Statement Analysis for investigative purposes. German psychologists devised a system to assess the credibility of statements made by children in child abuse cases. Called Criteria-Based Content Analysis, the technique became mandated in German courts in 1954 in cases involving a disputed allegation of sexual abuse of a child.

Statement Analysis Techniques are very accurate for but not limited to the following reasons;

Number 1)  All truth comes from memory. When reliving / stating a true auto biographical memory all of the events should be explained in the first person singular past tense.

Number 2) The majority of the techniques are based on word definitions, Every word has a meaning.  When you combine this with the fact that people mean exactly what they say, it becomes possible to determine what a person is telling you and are they being truthful or deceptive.  

Number 3) Some of the techniques of Statement Analysis is based on the rules of grammar.  Such as the use of articles, the indefinite articles "a, an" and the definite article "the" and how they are used within a statement.

Number 4) When using Statement Analysis techniques I am not interpreting what a person is saying. I listen exactly to what a person is saying and telling me.

Number 5) The shortest sentence is the best sentence. When asked a question a truthful person will answer you in a very short and direct answer to your question. Deceptive people or people with something to hide will not.  Breaking Paul Grice's four Conversational Maxims of; Quality, Quantity, Relevance and Manner.

Statement Analysis is very accurate diagnostic tool in deception detection and showing if the person in question is committed to his/her statement or is he/she showing a lack of commitment to his or her statement. The three fundamental principles of statement analysis are;

Word definitions,  every word a person states has a meaning. People mean exactly what they say.  For example; if a person says "I think I will go out to dinner tonight"  that is exactly what he/she means. He/she did not say "I will go out to dinner tonight."  The word "think" is telling me he/she is not sure about going to dinner. So you cannot picture him/her having dinner at their favorite restaurant.

Rules of grammar. For example; The rules of grammar define how articles are used in a statement. The indefinite articles "a"  and "an"  are used to identify someone or something that is unknown. Once the person or thing has been introduced into a statement, we are required to use the definite article "the,"  when these articles are reversed within a statement, using the definite article "the" before a person or thing has been introduced, would indicate the person is making up the story or may have more information about the incident then he/she is telling me, I would want to know why?

Most importantly, the examiner does not interpret what a person is saying. The examiner bases the analysis only on the words used in the written or oral statement. In Statement Analysis I do not interrupt what a person is saying or writing. I focus my primary attention on the language. Truthful statements differ from deceptive statements in both content and quality, breath and depth. All truth comes from memory, while deception is built by logic.

In Statement Analysis "the shortest sentence is the best sentence." All true statements come from memory.  All statements should be "first person singular past tense." Unless it is a missing persons case. That would be the only time we would expect the verbs used within a statement to be "present or future tense." Using past tense in a missing persons case would tell the examiner the person writing or talking about the missing person knows he/she is already dead, something he/she should not know.   

Statement Analysis is a very accurate diagnostic tool in detecting deception or a lack of conviction in a persons written or oral statement. It is not an end to itself nor will it prove guilt or innocence. It will assist the investigator in obtaining additional information in an alibi or event statement.  

In statement analysis, investigators compare and examine words from within an interviewee's written or transcribed statement. We look for information within the statement itself, independent of case facts, and to detect deception if it exists.

One relevant example of how a person's words can indicate deception is provided by the notorious Susan Smith case. In that case, Susan Smith stood outside her burgundy sedan and released the parking brake. Her car drifted down a boat ramp and into
South Carolina's Long Lake. Her sons, Michael, age 3, and Alexander, age 14 months, were strapped into their car seats and drowned. To cover her actions, Smith told police that her boys were abducted at gunpoint. This launched a nationwide search for her boys and the alleged kidnapper. During the investigation, Smith tearfully told reporters:

"My children wanted me. They needed me and now I can't help them."

David, Michael and Alexander's father, tried to reassure Susan by saying:

"They're okay. They're going to be home soon."

As many are aware, Susan Smith was later arrested for murdering her children. She was tried and convicted and is currently serving a life sentence in a South Carolina correctional institution.

Many investigators use a technique called SCAN or statement analysis to determine the truth in statements like the ones given by Susan and David Smith. In statement analysis, investigators examine the words of a statement, independent of case facts, to analyze the information and to detect deception if it is present. Investigators then analyze the clues unintentionally provided by a writer or speaker and use these insights during a subsequent investigation or interview.

In the case of Susan Smith, by analyzing the statements made by the victims' parents, we can easily conclude that the father believed the boys were alive while the mother knew the children were dead. The key to this conclusion can be found by examining simple grammar, specifically verb tense. The father referred to the children in the present tense. By contrast, the mother referred to them in past tense. Of all times, when speaking of how her "abducted" children would really need their mother, she speaks of them in the past tense, e.g., "My children wanted me...They needed me." In Susan Smith's mind, the children could no longer want or need her in the present tense because they were no longer alive. Her language reveals that she already knew they were dead when they were only supposed to be missing and that can only mean one thing.

Susan SMITH said, "My children wanted me. They needed me. and now I can't help them."
David SMITH said, "
They're  okay and they're going to be home soon."

In cases of missing, runaway, or abducted children, a parent will most commonly assume the best option possible: that is, they will believe the missing child is still alive until proven otherwise.

Investigative tip: Reports of Missing Persons

In missing person(s) cases, an effective opening question in an interview might be,
Tell me about (missing persons name), then look at the verb tense in the interviewee's answer to determine if s/he should be considered a witness, a reporting person or a suspect.

Example: When asked to describe his missing wife the writer said,

God, the first word that comes to mind is, you know, glorious, I mean we took care of each other, very well. She was amazing. She is amazing,"

The fact that he corrected himself doesn't erase the fact that he referred to her in the past tense.

When asked, "
did you murder your wife?" he gave the following answer:

"I had absolutely nothing to do with her disappearance, and you used the word murder, Yeah, I mean, that is a possibility. It's not one were ready to accept and it creeps into my mind late at night, and early in the morning,"

Notice: The inquiry coming from the suspicion that the speaker may have KILLED his wife, yielded the question, did you MURDER your wife? to which he answered, I had absolutely nothing to do with her DISAPPEARANCE. First, are the words MURDER and DISAPPEARANCE synonyms? The answer; there are no synonyms in a statement. Second, did he answer the question, and if he didn't, then he did.

Of further interest in regards to this case, the writer said,

I believe it was about 9:30, that morning, the reason being that we started to watch Martha Stewart Living, while Laci was working in the kitchen and I left some time during that."

These statements were given five months before her body was found. The question becomes; if everyone else thought of her as missing, and he already knew she was dead, could it be that he killed her?

If you haven't figured it out by now, these statements came from Scott Peterson; in the last statement, Scott mentioned the time of 9:30; It is interesting to note that statistically many criminals put the time of the crime inside their statement. This means that if any objective time is mentioned in the statement, the reader / listener should ask themselves if this time corresponds to the time of the crime. If it does, then there should be a serious suspicion that the writer / speaker might have committed the crime.

Therefore it is quite possible that Scott Peterson killed his wife Laci Peterson around
9:30 am in the kitchen of there home just before he left.

Donald Bender, LMFT.  Their Words. Forensic Linguistic Statement Analysis Course


The four main components of statement analysis are;

Parts of Speech ( pronouns, nouns, and verbs )

Irrelevant/Unconnected Information

Lack of Conviction

Statement Balance ( BDA Ratios )


BDA Ratios;

Statements should be examined by investigators for overall balance, because a statement is more than just a series of details. Statements need to sound like an account of the event. A truthful statement has three parts. The first part details what was going on "Before"  the event occurred (B-1). The before Issue places the event in context.

The second part  describes the occurrence itself. The main issue "During", (D-1), and explains what happened during the event, whether it was a theft, a rape, a robbery, a fire, etc.

The last part, the "after issue" (A-1) tells what occurred after the event, including actions and emotions, and should be nearly twice as long as the first part (B-1).

The more balanced the three parts of the statement, the greater the probability that the statement is a true and accurate account of the event. Approximately 1/2 or 50% of the statement should be about the during (D-1) main issue ( the event itself ). The remaining half of the statement should to be broken into two parts. The first part (B-1) that comes before the event should be approximately one third of the remaining half, or 17% of the statement. Finally, the after the event (A-1), the part that comes after event, should be made up of two thirds of the remaining half, or 33% of the entire statement. BDA means Before, During and After.

The following breakdown is what we expect:

BEFORE the main issue (B-1) approximately 17% of the total statement
DURING the main issue (D-1) approximately 50% of the total statement
AFTER the main issue   (A-1) approximately 33% of the total statement

The reason for this is psychological: the first part sets up the event; then the event occurs; and finally, there is closure. Truthful statements tend to spend a great deal of time on closure.

Investigators should conclude that an abnormal distribution within a statement could indicate deception. I use word counts rather than line counts.  I feel this gives the analyst a more accurate BDA ratio.



Mark McClish - Statement Analysis Advanced Interviewing Concepts

Donald Bender, LMFT - Their words Director of Training. Forensic Linguistic Statement Analysis Course

Statement Analysis - What Do Suspects Words Really Reveal?

By Susan H. Adams, M.A.

Special Agent Adams teaches Statement Analysis as part of interviewing and interrogation courses at the FBI Academy.






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