Interrogation techniques and their consequences:

Understanding aspects of the Reid Technique and its effectiveness in modern criminal justice

Felix Garcia Ortega

Florida International University

Introduction

Interrogation tactics have been around since the start of humans with examples dating back to biblical times. Interrogation techniques or the practice of questioning an individual to solicit the truth is a large part of the criminal justice system. Through the years there have been many alterations and improvements to the practices used by law enforcement personnel to question suspects. From China, circa 1,000 BC where suspects of a crime would be questioned with uncooked rice kernels in their mouth to test if the suspect was nervous causing them to expand the rice kernel with saliva to the Salem witch trials in 1692 which used the gathering of evidence in the form of witness accounts to question suspects. In modern times The Reid Technique is the primary interrogation tactic studied and used within the United States. It was originally developed by John E. Reid a psychologist and former police officer in the early 1950’s. The process begins with the common practice of fact analysis, then a non-accusatory questioning of the suspect to monitor behavior, and lastly the start of the Reid nine step process forming into an accusatory form of questioning (Gudjonsson, G. H., & Pearse, J. 2011). Since the term was coined in the early 1950’s the Reid Technique gained steady traction and began to be the main form of interrogation style taught and practiced in the United States (Dixon, D. 2010). Since its creation many experts have questioned its validity due to its high percentage of coercing suspects into a false confession.

The Reid Technique’s main attraction and most likely its reason for such widespread adaptation as the main form of interrogation technique is the nine-step process taught by John E. Reid and Associates, Inc. The process begins with step one, a positive confrontation of the suspect where the interviewer should express to the suspect that they are guilty. Step two, the interviewer should help provide an explanation to why the suspect would commit the crime to be understanding followed quickly by step three, controlling and minimizing any denials the suspect has during the process. Step four consist of putting the suspect at ease and overcoming any objection to why they could not commit the crime in question. During step five is when the Reid Technique believes it has eliminated any chance of an innocent suspect if they do not move from step three, however, for many individuals this is not the case. During step five of the process the focus is used on keeping the suspects attention and receptive to move into step six, where the investigator will offer the suspect alternatives to why they committed the accused offense to help the suspect rationalize the confession. Step seven and eight offer the suspect no choice but to offer a confession by first presenting the suspect with two different possibilities to what happed but both having the suspect being guilty and finally get the suspect to repeat his admission of guilt. When the interviewer reaches step nine of the Reid Technique it is presented as simple as gathering the confession on video, audio, or written forms.

The nine steps associated with the Reid interrogation style set a dangerous process where many innocent people can fall into the trap of a false confession when backed into a corner of guilt. Each passing step into the Reid Technique slowly but effectively removes a persons ability to combat such accusatory claims and when combined on the fact that many integrations take place on juveniles and people with potential mental disability it almost eliminates all hope of approaching a valid conclusion in an investigation (Gudjonsson, G. H., & Pearse, J. 2011). The Reid Technique has many critics that claim the method can result in a high number of false confessions due to the long lengths of the interrogations and the continuous accusations that this method calls for. The investigators will tell the suspect that they have clearly committed the crime, as the evidence obtained during the investigation leads to them (Dixon, D. 2010). Then they will insist that the person confess for their sake, or their family’s sake, as this will give them a reduced sentence.

Historically in the United States and countries alike the criminal justice system relied heavily on coercive tactics in order to obtain a confession. Focusing heavy on the investigative aspect of the case and assuming that any suspect being questioned to be guilty of the crime in question. Prior to the 1930s torture tactics were commonplace in the investigative process using beatings, starvation, and other forms of torture to solicit a confession from a suspected criminal. These tactics changed in 1936, the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Mississippi where the supreme court decided that any confession solicited through violence could not be entered into evidence. This change in the criminal justice system stopped the use of physical force by the questioning party however, it did not alter the thinking that a person being question is already guilty of the crime even before being found to be in court.

In the early 1960’s an experienced polygrapher and former police officer by the name of John E. Reed developed and popularized what is known today as the Reed Technique. The leading style of questioning used on suspects of a crime within the United States. This form of questioning is based largely with the mentality of the guilt of a suspect just like in the early 1930’s (Dixon, D. 2010). The accusatory form of questing slowly began to grow in popularity. Since the United States Supreme court ruled that no confessions received with the use of physical force would be admissible in court, they did not cover psychological tools that the investigative party can use to solicit a false confession. In 1966, the court addressed the extent questioning of a suspect could be used in court when they decided Miranda v. Arizona.

When the court reached a decision in Miranda v. Arizona among many opinions reached the court decided on what constitutes voluntary versus involuntary confessions. Although, in the case itself it lacked any concrete evidence of the physical torture that court decided that they consider coercion to be both physical as well as mental (Allen, R. J. 2007). This decision by the United States Supreme court allowed the protection of suspects being questioned to be informed of there rights as a suspect as well as established protections from phycological torture that individuals could have been placed under such as confinement to a small room, being isolated for long periods of time, and repeated verbal abuse (Allen, R. J. 2007).

On the subject of interrogation techniques and the consequences they pose for individuals such as the rate of false confessions and wrongfully accused suspects imprisoned, there have been multiple studies conducted.

References

Allen, R. J. (2007). The Misguided Defenses of Miranda v. Arizona. Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, 5(1), 205–214.

Dixon, D. (2010). Questioning Suspects: A Comparative Perspective. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 26(4), 426–440. doi: 10.1177/1043986210377107

Gudjonsson, G. H., & Pearse, J. (2011). Suspect Interviews and False Confessions. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(1), 33–37. doi: 10.1177/0963721410396824

Salvati, J. M., & Houck, S. C. (2019). Examining the Causes and Consequences of Confession-Eliciting Tactics during Interrogation. Journal of Applied Security Research, 14(3), 241–256. doi: 10.1080/19361610.2019.1621508

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