What Order Should an Investigator Use to Conduct Interviews?
Interviews are one of the most important methods of collecting evidence during an internal investigation conducted by an attorney or investigator (for purposes of this article, referred to as the “investigator”). An investigator’s interview sequence can impact the accuracy and thoroughness of the information collected during the investigative process. For example, an investigator should attempt to interview the accuser/complainant (if known or available) first so the details of the allegations can be clarified; relevant evidence can be identified and collected; and an initial list of witnesses can be developed.
If circumstances permit, the best-case scenario is for an investigator to conduct interviews in the following order:
1. Accuser/complainant [This interview should provide the investigator with the details on the allegations; identification and whereabouts of the accused/target, witnesses and physical evidence; and any other information needed to develop an investigation plan and take any initial proactive measures.]
2. Witnesses and other individuals with pertinent information [The investigator should next interview persons: (a) with minimal or general information regarding the allegation/complaint; (b) identified during the evidence-collection process; and (c) named by the accuser/complainant and other interview subjects.
3. Subject-matter experts and other individuals who could educate the investigator on topics or issues pertinent to the allegation/complaint that are unique or require expert analysis (e.g., computer forensics, handwriting analysis).
4. Individuals who allegedly associated, assisted or collaborated with the accused/target in the alleged misconduct, violation or illicit behavior.
5. Accused/target of the investigation.
6. Individuals identified by the accused/target and any other parties.
7. Accuser/complainant (follow-up interview, if necessary, to address evidence collected since initial interview).
Naturally, the order of interviews is dictated by the investigation strategy, the facts of the case, external issues (e.g., litigation, government involvement) and other factors (e.g., a witness is relocating).
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