Lesson Six: The Investigative Process

The Five Steps of the Investigative Process

1. State the Problem
• Identify subject
• Locate subject
• Recover evidence

2. Form a Hypothesis
• Motive
• Opportunity
• Means

3. Observe and Experiment
• Evaluate hypothesis
• Modify/reject hypothesis
• Experiment with hypothesis

4. Interpret Data
• Interpret results of final observations and experimentation

5. Draw Conclusions
• Has the stated problem been answered?
• Does evidence support hypothesis?
• Has every facet of the investigation been conducted within the law?
• Do the facts of the case support prosecution?


A typical investigation covers an extensive scope of duties, methods and objectives. In order to attain a successful resolution to the activity, the investigator must possess and utilize some type of methodical process. Frequently, an investigator will begin an investigation and will immediately be faced with a myriad of information, much which will seem unrelated at the time. In order to filter out the important from the minutia, a scientific process must be employed. This process consists of five simple steps that can lend order and direction to the investigation of activity. The five steps of this process are:

A. Identify and State Problem

1. Consider the Entire Problem

This step of the process may seem to be quite simple; however, stating the problem is more than saying that the subject needs to be identified and caught. An investigator must identify and take into consideration the entire problem.

2. Follow Legal Guidelines

Identifying, locating, and catching the subject through the use of illegal means can result in you getting into trouble or worse – being arrested and charged with a crime. To this end, the investigator must ensure that every step taken is within the established legal guidelines. If these factors are not considered while stating the problem, an accurate picture is not being painted.

B. Form a Hypothesis or theory

1. Apply Reasoning

This area creates more problems for investigators more than any other. In order to form a hypothesis, an investigator must be able to apply some type of reasoning to formulate an idea about what has happened and a subject’s involvement. An investigator must be careful not to draw too narrow a hypothesis, or one that is so broad that nothing meaningful can be derived from it. Care must also be exercised to avoid allowing one’s personal bias to influence this process.

2. Examine Motive, Opportunity, and Means

Traditionally, an examination into motive, opportunity, and means will produce one or more explanations. Motive is defined as that which causes a person to act in a certain manner, while opportunity would simply be the occasion or chance to commit the crime in question. Means is generally the least important element to be considered, since the means to commit a crime can usually be available to a wide range of individuals. For example, nearly anyone can walk into a convenience store and snatch cash from the hand of the clerk. The taking of the cash in and of itself is not nearly as important an element as the others.

C. Observe and Experiment

Test this by asking yourself, does the evidence support the theory and does the theory support the evidence and facts of the case. The investigator constantly re-evaluates the hypothesis by examining any and all information that is obtained during the course of the investigation. Each of these examinations will help test the strength of the investigator’s hypothesis. Additionally, the investigator’s hypothesis will also be tested for accuracy by the observations, collection of evidence and time.

D. Interpret Data

Interpreting data means that the investigator must evaluate all the evidence, statements, and personal observations in order to reach a conclusion.

1. Weighing the Data

While interpreting all of data in the case, the investigator looks at each interview conducted and determines what weight, if any, each must be given. For example, the witness statement of a person who has identified the subject, and positively picked his photograph from a photo lineup, will weigh much heavier than the account of a co-worker that insists the subject was at work when the incident occurred.

2. Inconsistencies and Discrepancies

This same type of scrutiny must also be applied to the victim if inconsistencies are identified in the statement. Although some discrepancies are inevitable, a witness that provides numerous discrepancies when asked to repeat the facts as they occurred may not be being totally truthful. The investigator must proceed carefully while conducting this analysis.


3. Forming a Different Hypothesis (Theory)

If this step of the process does not yield a strong indication of guilt, the investigator may need to form another theory and take a different approach in the investigation. The investigator must be careful not to stubbornly refuse to yield when the facts do not support his/her theory. Sometimes things are not always the way they seem.

E. Draw Conclusions

The investigator must employ not only deductive reasoning, but more importantly inductive reasoning to help reach final conclusions concerning the witnesses, evidence, and motivations in the case. By using proven truths (facts), the investigator should hopefully be able to draw some meaningful conclusions concerning certain aspects of the case, such as the who, what, where, when and how the act was committed

Through this final step in the investigative process, the investigator should reach the conclusion that the accused is the person who committed the act being investigated, to the exclusion of all other possibilities. This conclusion should be supported by as many other facts as have been uncovered during the investigation, such as victim/witness statements, and physical evidence.

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