Evasive Answer

The legal term evasive answer refers to a response that is given, which does not directly answer the question posed. The point of an evasive answer is to hide the truth. Evasive answers are often seen in the legal world when a party refuses to confirm or deny allegation(s) against him. An evasive answer is perceived to be a party’s failure, or refusal, to answer the question posed to him. To explore this concept, consider the following evasive answer definition.

Definition of Evasive Answer

Noun

  1. An answer intended to evade the truth

Origin

1375-1425       Late Middle English

What is an Evasive Answer

An evasive answer is an answer that someone gives when he is trying to avoid giving an honest answer to a direct question. Evasive answers are often given so that the party does not have to admit to the truth, because the truth could negative legal implications. When someone attempts to be evasive, the law typically makes an assumption that he knows something of the truth, and that he is refusing to answer. A tactic often used by attorneys questioning witnesses in depositions, or at trial, is to switch to a different method of questioning, hoping to throw the witness off enough to tell the truth.

Examples of Evasive Answers

  • Vague Roundoff

If someone says “that’s about it” or “that’s about all I know,” they’re not confirming that is, in fact, all they know, and “that’s about all I can tell you,” often mean there is more of the story left to tell, and they are choosing to leave out details so as to potentially conceal the truth.

  • Can’t Say

If someone says “I can’t think of anything else,” or “I’m not able to say,” or “I couldn’t tell you that,” the person is actually telling the truth. Either he truly does not have any more information, or he really can’t say, because if he did, he would be implicating himself in a crime.

  • The Answer Is

If someone says something to the effect of, “the answer to that is no,” “I’ll answer no to that,” or “that’s a no,” this is an example of an evasive answer. It is much easier to say simply “no,” rather than adding anything else on to it. Some people do this because it is not easy for them to answer with a direct lie, so instead they choose to introduce their false answer of “no,” rather than just simply saying “no.”

  • Good Question

If someone responds with “that’s a good question,” or “that’s a tough one,” this too is an example of an evasive answer. Often, a criminal will prepare his responses to direct questions ahead of time. If, however, he is asked a question that he could not have anticipated, he may be thrown off of his game and respond with “that’s a good question,” while he tries to quickly think up a lie in response. Similarly, he may be evasive by using phrases such as “Wow, that’s a hard one,” “That’s hard for me to say,” or “Tough question.”

  • Answering with a Question

If someone responds to a question with, “Why are you asking me that,” “How would I know,” or “What kind of question is that,” he is being evasive – countering a question with another question, rather than answering the question. Someone may answer a question in this with a question in order to stall for time to think up a lie. This may also be another situation in which the person has difficult telling an outright lie.

Tactics to Overcome Evasive Answers

When someone provides an evasive answer, an experienced interrogator is often aware that the party is lying by omission, which means he is lying by leaving out crucial details, rather than giving false information. The interrogator then has to switch up his tactics in his attempt to get the person to admit to the truth. These tactics do not always work, but the potential of success makes it worth the effort.

Some of the tactics that interrogators use to get around an evasive answer include:

  • Planning the Interview Ahead of Time

It may be helpful for the interrogator to consider all of the possible answers that a person might give to the questions being asked. This way, the interrogator will already have another question prepared if the person says something like, “why are you asking me that?” A new question might throw the person off, and possibly get him to admit the truth, either with his words, or his body language. Ultimately, the interrogator must have a goal in mind as to what he wants to accomplish by the end of the interview.

  • Paying Attention to the Person’s Body Language

Sometimes a person admits the truth without saying a word. Interrogators are trained on just what signs to look for when a person is lying, and it is important for the interrogator to consider the entire picture when questioning someone.

  • Paying Attention to His Own Body Language

Just as important as the body language of the person responding to questions, is the body language of the person who is asking the questions. Even if the person is being positively infuriating, it is crucial that the interrogator remain calm and collected. People are more likely to respond positively to calmer body language than to someone who is acting erratic. It actually makes it easier for them to lie if the interrogator loses control, because the interrogator is not focused on the little nuances that the person responding may be giving away.

  • Not Being Afraid to Ask for Help

Interrogators should be able to bring a trusted co-worker or superior into the interrogation room with them. It is less about “good cop, bad cop” and more about having another set of eyes and ears there to catch something the first interrogator may have missed.

Evasive Answer vs. Perjury

Evasive answers and perjury can both be prosecuted as attempts by a party to avoid telling the truth in a court of law. People who give evasive answers when sworn to give honest testimony may be threatened with perjury in an attempt to get them to admit the truth. Similarly, parties who do not necessarily deny the truth, who falsely claim to not remember anything pertaining to the incident in question, may be prosecuted for perjury.

In order to prove perjury, the prosecution must be able to prove that the party did, in fact, know the truth at one point, and that he must have been able to remember it during his testimony. If the dates between the time the incident occurred and the time the testimony was given are close enough, then it may be correct to assume that the party does, in fact, remember the details of the incident.

One way to prove that someone does have memory of an event is to examine the instances the party admits to remembering. If he remembers events that happened around and during the timeframe of the incident, there is a good chance that he remembers the details of the incident as well. Similarly, if the party mentions the incident either before or after he gives his testimony, that may prove that he remembers the incident.

Evasive Answer Example in the Movie Business

Film producer Samuel Bronston made films in several European countries between 1959 and 1964, with the company Samuel Bronston Productions, Inc. – a company he owned outright. As part of its normal operations, Bronston’s company maintained nearly 40 separate bank accounts in 5 of the countries in which it conducted business.

In 1964, one of the pictures Bronston was working on failed, causing the company to file for bankruptcy protection from the federal government. Two years later, Bronston was questioned under oath as part of a creditors’ meeting regarding the overseas assets the company held. The following exchange occurred during the meeting between Bronston and one of the creditors’ lawyers:

  • Q:  “Do you have any bank accounts in Swiss banks, Mr. Bronston?”
  • A:  “No, sir.”
  • Q:  “Have you ever?”
  • A:  “The company had an account there for about six months, in Zürich.”
  • Q:  “Have you any nominees who have bank accounts in Swiss banks?”
  • A:  “No, sir.”
  • Q:  “Have you ever?”
  • A:  “No, sir.”

Despite the fact that all of the answers that Bronston provided were, in fact, truthful, the second answer was not a direct answer to the question presented. Bronston was subsequently indicted by the federal government on perjury charges, after it was discovered that he had personally held an account with the International Credit Bank in Geneva. Through that bank, Bronson had conducted nearly $200,000 worth of transactions in the five years the company was active. The account was closed just before the company filed bankruptcy.

At trial, the government argued that Bronston intentionally answered the second question in that series evasively, by referring to the company’s account, rather than to his own personal account. Bronston was accused of leading the creditors and their lawyers to believe that he did not have, nor did he ever have, an account in Switzerland, which was not true.

The jurors were instructed to consider Bronston’s state of mind in their decision. They were told they should convict Bronston if they found him to be fully capable of understanding the questions that were posed to him, and to have chosen to give false answers anyway. The jury ultimately convicted Bronston of perjury.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Certiorari – An order issued by a higher court demanding a lower court forward all records of a specific case for review.
  • Omission – The act of excluding or leaving something out; a failure to do something, especially something for which there is a moral or legal obligation to do.
  • Perjury – The willful telling of an untruth, or giving of false testimony, after having taken an oath.
  • Witness – An individual who can provide a firsthand account of something heard, seen, or experienced.

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