Wickland Zulawski, the firm responsible for instructing law enforcement agencies about interrogation techniques recently announced that they will no longer be using the Reid Technique.
The Reid Method, which involves a confrontational interview, has been shown to result in false confessions and wrongful convictions. It was the method used in the Brendan Dassey interviews. Making a Murderer highlighted the official misconduct in the Teresa Halbach murder investigation. Steven Avery and his sixteen year old nephew, Brendan were convicted of the murders. Dassey’s confession was completely inconsistent with evidence at the crime scene and it was obvious police coerced him into admitting involvement in a crime of which he had no knowledge or participation.
Since the airing of the documentary, a federal judge has ordered the release of Dassey; however the State of Wisconsin appealed that decision and Dassey remains behind bars. Understand that police are allowed to lie to people during interviews. They are permitted to claim that they already have evidence linking them to the crime, or a witness who has agreed to testify against them. That combined with the coercive techniques has lead to many false confessions, and teens are especially vulnerable. Dassey believed he would be able to go back to his class if he just told police what they wanted to hear. Instead he was arrested and still remains behind bars ten years later.
What tactics can the police use when questioning a suspect?
The police are prohibited from using physical or psychological coercion when conducting police interrogations. A confession or evidence that results from coercive tactics is inadmissible at trial. The police, for example, may not use torture techniques, threats, drugging, or inhumane treatment during an interrogation. The police, however, can use lying, trickery, and other types of non-coercive methods to obtain a confession from a suspect. (link)
These are the nine steps of the Reid Technique:
Nine steps of interrogation
The Reid technique’s nine steps of interrogation are:
- Direct confrontation. Advise the suspect that the evidence has led the police to the individual as a suspect. Offer the person an early opportunity to explain why the offense took place.
- Try to shift the blame away from the suspect to some other person or set of circumstances that prompted the suspect to commit the crime. That is, develop themes containing reasons that will psychologically justify or excuse the crime. Themes may be developed or changed to find one to which the accused is most responsive.
- Try to minimize the frequency of suspect denials.
- At this point, the accused will often give a reason why he or she did not or could not commit the crime. Try to use this to move towards the acknowledgement of what they did.
- Reinforce sincerity to ensure that the suspect is receptive.
- The suspect will become quieter and listen. Move the theme discussion towards offering alternatives. If the suspect cries at this point, infer guilt.
- Pose the “alternative question”, giving two choices for what happened; one more socially acceptable than the other. The suspect is expected to choose the easier option but whichever alternative the suspect chooses, guilt is admitted. As stated above, there is always a third option which is to maintain that they did not commit the crime.
- Lead the suspect to repeat the admission of guilt in front of witnesses and develop corroborating information to establish the validity of the confession.
- Document the suspect’s admission or confession and have him or her prepare a recorded statement (audio, video or written).
In many cases police have taken the technique too far, taking advantage of young or mentally challenged individuals who firmly believe they will be permitted to walk out there door if they only tell police what they want to hear; or doing excessively long interviews, wearing people down. Reid warns against such methods, but the amount of wrongful convictions based on false confessions indicates that police aren’t in fact obtaining the truth and solving many crimes. They are doing whatever is necessary to get a confession to make it appear as if the crime has been solved.
Hopefully the move away from the Reid Technique will result in fewer false confessions.