they’re often stressful enough to elicit confessions from innocent people.
A lack of sleep, outright shock or highly manipulative interrogation techniques (or all of the above) are a just a few factors that can cause even the most levelheaded person to falsely confess to a crime.
Most of what police do during interrogations, including those tactics that lead to false confessions, is completely legal. Accusations, yelling, moving in close to invade your personal space; telling you that you’ve failed a polygraph test—all these tactics are completely within the rules.
Most modern police interrogations are based upon a procedure known as the Reid Technique. The Reid Technique involves four stages meant to break down a suspect’s defenses and reconstruct him or her as a confessor.
First, the suspect is brought into custody and isolated from all familiar surroundings.
Next, the interrogator will let the suspect know that he or she is guilty and that the authorities know this. The interrogator may even imply that any attempts to claim otherwise are not only futile, but will only anger the interrogator and create more problems for the suspect.
The interrogator then presents a theory of the case, called a “theme,” which can actually be supported by evidence or testimony that the investigators don’t really have.
In the final stage, the interrogator changes demeanors by sympathizing with the suspect and suggesting a “way out.” This technique is called minimization, which involves telling the suspect that his or her actions are completely understandable under the circumstances, and that they can unburden themselves by confessing.
At this point, the interrogator has cut off all further denials, shifting the attention to whether or not the suspect intended to commit the crime, suggesting that it may have been an accident.
Everything contained within the scope of this technique, including all false statements of evidence made by the interrogator are accepted as well within the law.
So what exactly constitutes “coercion?”
The key point to understand is that a confession must be considered voluntary in order to be admissible. Confessions obtained by way of physical abuse are not considered voluntary.
This might include something as subtle as being handcuffed a little too tightly, or being forced down into the interrogation chair with physical force—anything that inflicts pain or threatens to inflict pain.
Additionally, a confession obtained under false pretenses, such as the threat of penalties which are outrageously severe or overstated, as well as the promise of some special treatment or “deal” in exchange for full cooperation, can contribute to coercion.
What Do You Think?
Have you heard stories about coerced confessions, and do you think it’s really possible for the Reid Technique to work on a truly innocent person?
I’d really love to hear your take on this, so share your thoughts on my Facebook page or on Twitter.