Police Interrogation

Interrogations are considered to be one of the most important phases of the investigation process (Holmberg & Christianson, 2002). Once a confession statement is obtained during an interrogation it is not easily retracted. Police, prosecutors, judges, and lay people find the idea of an innocent person confessing to a crime, especially a serious one such as homicide, rape, and the like, highly unlikely (Leo & Ofshe, 1998). In most cases criminal investigators are not trained to believe that false confessions occur and can be easily obtained from suspects.

Furthermore, they are not likely to understand the social processes that occur during an intense custodial interrogation. As research indicates, the interrogation process is guilt-presumptive process that can easily stimulate cognitive and behavioral confirmation processes (Kassin, 1997). Russano et al. (2005) developed a novel experimental design with which to examine the effects of highly intense psychological interrogation techniques on the elicitation of true and false confession.

The study included both guilty and innocent participants who were accused of breaking an experimental rule. The researchers analyzed the influence of two popular interrogation techniques used by police interviewers: minimizations and leniency. What the outcome of the study revealed was that guilty people were more likely to confess than innocents, and also that the use of leniency and minimization resulted in higher rates of both true and false confessions (Russano et al. , 2005).

The authors suggest that police investigators should stay away from applying interrogative techniques that offer leniency, because they “appear to reduce the diagnostic value of any confession that is elicited” (p. 481). A number of researchers have attempted to study the various police interrogation tactics and their influence on obtaining a confession from a criminal suspect. There are several training manuals available to police interrogators that clearly describe an array of strategies police could use when interviewing suspects.

The teachings in some of the most popular investigation manuals suggest that false confessions cannot be extracted from innocent people (Inbau et al. , 2001). However, some of these manuals have been subjected to outright criticism, particularly because of the power of the technique described to generate confessions (Gudjonsson, 2003). One of the most popular such manuals is Inbau, Reid, and Buckley’s (2001) Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, which had its first edition in 1962. The first edition of the book formed the basis of the popular Reid technique.

In their manual, Inbau et al. address critics of some of the previous editions. Nevertheless, the major apparatus on how to easily generate confessions remain unchanged. The authors advise police interrogators to dress in civilian clothing and to conduct the interrogation in a small, bare, and soundproof room, where the suspect cannot detect any familiar sights and sounds, and would not be in any way distracted. The authors further suggest that interrogators should provide just two or three armless, straight-backed chairs and a desk for the interrogator.

If the conditions allow, a one-way mirror should also be part of the room furnishing making it possible for another fellow police officer to observe the suspect’s behavior—potential signs of weakness, anxiety, and withdrawal (Inbau et al. ). In short, the basic intent of the manual is to teach interrogators how to “break down” the suspect’s resistance and thus improve the likelihood of obtaining a confession. This is achieved through a nine-step process, known as the Reid technique. In their famous manual Inbau et al.

(2001) described in great detail the nine-step process, the main aim of which is to teach officers how to overcome the resistance of criminal suspects. Following its steps the investigator begins by confronting the suspect’s guilt by telling the suspect that there is no doubt that he or she is involved in the crime. Then it follows by developing “themes” that would justify the criminal act – a way to rationalize for the crime, provided by the interrogator. A good example of the theme development is telling the suspect that anyone else under the same circumstances would have committed a crime.

Another theme example is to suggest to the suspect that the victim was responsible for the crime because of his or her behavior. According to Inbau and colleagues: Joe, no woman should be on the streets alone at night looking as sexy as she did. Even here today, she’s got on a low-cut dress that makes visible damn near all of her breast. That’s wrong! It’s too much of a temptation for any normal man. If she hadn’t gone around dressing like that you wouldn’t be in this room now. (Inbau etal. , 2001, p. 257)

The third step teaches the interrogator to try and interrupt all efforts at denial. According to Inbau and his colleagues, the more times a denial is stated, the more unlikely it becomes for the interrogator to extract a confession. The fourth step of the technique advises the officer to overcome the suspect’s factual, moral, and emotional objections to the charges. The authors suggest that innocent suspects usually continue to deny any involvement whereas guilty suspects are more likely to start providing reasons why the accusations against them could not be true.

Inbau and colleagues highlight the importance, at this stage of the interrogator using this same objection as a reason why the suspect should confess. At the next stage, the interrogator ensures that the passive suspect does not withdraw. Once the officer detects any indication that the suspect is starting to withdraw, they should immediately act upon it. During this stage, the investigator shows sympathy and understanding toward the suspect and advises him/her to tell the truth.

Next, it is recommended that the interrogator offer the suspect an alternative explanation for the criminal act. Inbau and colleagues provide the following example: “Did you blow that money on booze, drugs, and women and party with it, or did you need it to help out your family? ” (Inbau et al. , 2001, p. 353). Step 8 suggests that the officer attempts to get the suspect to describe the details of the crime. If the oral confession from step 8 is successfully obtained, then step 9 serves to convert the statement just given into a full confession statement.