Witness Statement Basics

Gathering witness evidence is an essential part of investigating crime, but do you know that inconsistent quality in testimony can reduce the likelihood of offenders being brought to justice?

A little trick to improving the quality of witness statements, making them easier to read and compare in cases with large numbers of witnesses, and meaning officers can quickly identifying conflicting suspect descriptions, comes in the form of the ADVOKATE acronym.

Whether you witness an incident and make notes at the time, or you are the officer taking the statement, following the ADVOKATE rule can make the difference between a conviction and a criminal walking free.

The Rule:

  1. Follow the order of the acronym to improve the quality of witness statements.
  2. Place the ADVOKATE paragraphs at the end of your statement, so in large cases investigators can easily find and compare information.
  3. Don’t place words in the mouths of a witness, use open questions to draw the best possible account from them.

ADVOKATE:

Amount of time the suspect was under observation.

Distance between the witness and the suspect.

Visibility and conditions at the time the suspect was under observation.

Obstructions to the witness’ view of the suspect.

Known or seen before by the witness: how / where?

Any reason to remember the suspect: relationship, scars, etc

Time the suspect was observed for and time elapsed since the incident.

Errors and explanations by the witness: colour-blindness, recalled new info.

Extra Benefits:

Following this rule also means investigators become aware of evidential weaknesses or conflicts at an early stage and this helps inform the investigative steps needed to produce a legitimate, watertight case against a suspect.

Example ADVOKATE Paragraph:

The whole incident in the bank lasted about five minutes. I saw the whole thing and could see the man from when he walked in until he left. He was in front of me in the queue, so with the social distancing markers on the floor I was six feet away from him. There was nothing between me and him and the bank is open with no pillars in the room or privacy barriers. I have seen the same man in the Starbucks across the street on my way to work every morning this week. I could see a tattoo of a skull crying red tears on the back of his neck and haven’t seen that tattoo anywhere else before. The whole incident too five minutes and it happened at 0930 hours this morning, so three hours ago as it is now 1230. I am colour-blind so I know that my tritanopia means I can confuse red and orange, so the tears on the tattoo may be orange rather than red.

Investigators would be able to use this statement to search arrest records for the described tattoo and even visit the Starbucks – to check CCTV and receipt records which may lead to the arrest of a suspect.

ADVOKATE is an incredibly powerful but simple tool in the investigative kit.

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