In situations where a subject reverts to “I don’t remember,” it is generally a means of defending himself without having to admit to participation in a particular act. For example in a Senate hearing, if the person under oath denied committing the act, he will have committed perjury. However, if the “I don’t remember” response is used, it enables the subject to respond without committing perjury.
One legitimate way to prepare for this type of response is to encourage the subject to talk about his job, its processes, and his responsibilities. Using what we would call a participatory interview allowing the questioner to have the subject commit to a series of events before the questioning focuses on the target of the inquiry. This sets up a difficult situation for the subject where he has to defend his ability to remember in one area but then later have no recollection of almost anything in another.
In an interview with a dishonest employee, switching to a participatory questioning style moves the subject from areas of general inquiry toward the target area. Because the subject has been detailed in his responses, it is difficult for him to turn to the “I don’t remember” response. Since he has been responsive up to this point, it would be awkward to so abruptly shift gears. In this type of pathway, it is much more likely that the subject will use the failure-to-recall response when asked to develop the admission. He will initially offer some examples substantiating his dishonesty but then be somewhat reluctant to expand on the admission. When faced with this type of a response, the interviewer should return to the use of showing understanding and empathy to support the subject’s self image.