I wrote this article over 10 years ago. I thought I'd place it on the blog because even with updated technology and the internet, investigators still take written declarations and tape-recorded statements.
So, here it is...
Recorded Statement vs. Written Declaration
by Jay Rosenzweig
The recorded statement is not an easy replacement of the signed written declaration. It has its own techniques and advantages and disadvantages. The following is a list of some of the advantages and disadvantages of a recorded statement as compared to a written statement:
Advantages of a Recorded Statement:
a. The statement is given in the subject's own words and his or her particular accent and phrase usage.
b. The recording will indicate a subject's emphasis and inflections and will give an idea as to whether he or she is forceful and positive or weak and vacillating.
c. Is probably the preferred method of obtaining a statement from an illiterate person.
d. Usually easier to read than a hand written declaration.
e. Generally takes less time to complete than a written statement.
Disadvantages of a Recorded Statement:
a. The statement is not signed by the subject at the time of interview (Unless the transcription is sent to the subject at a later date for signature).
b. Subject may "freeze" knowing the conversation is being recorded.
c. Faulty handling of the recorded interview can result in the statement being useless as evidence.
d. It is essential that the recording be clear and audible. Background noise not noticed at the time may prove to effectively "wipe out" much of the recorded interview by covering the voices, making it difficult or impossible to hear and understand the questions and answers.
e. Impressions of witnesses are more accurate in person rather the over the telephone (if it's not a personal interview).
Most statements are used in court for impeachment purposes only. However, in some cases, if you show up in court with a pile of witness statements in your favor, most likely the judge will take that into consideration when rendering a decision.
Remember, even if the witness does not want to cooperate and provide a statement (but will provide an interview), you can still use your notes for impeachment purposes. I suggest that you do not conduct investigation on your own behalf, but to hire a professional. Courts give more credibility to a 3rd party (or someone impartial) rather that someone related to the case.