Thanks for joining us again for this discussion on false confessions, and how easy it is to get someone to admit to a crime they didn’t commit. Having already discussed a study in which psychologists were able to get college students to admit to crimes they weren’t guilty of during a controlled interview during the first installment, we are going to move on to how these techniques are used by law enforcement.
As explained by Dr. Julia Shaw and Dr. Stephen Porter in their study, memory can be manipulated. Once a person believes something to be true, their imagination begins the process of filling in the details and creating the surrounding recollections to support that belief. The techniques are somewhat specialized, but once an interrogator is familiar with them, it isn’t hard to get people to believe that they are guilty of something they never did. This happens here in Michigan with startling frequency! These false confessions have occurred in recent years in Kent County, Oakland County, Ingham County, Macomb County and lots of others including Ann Arbor.
According to the Innocence Project, police officers sometimes use these techniques in their interrogations, which is why we have such a high rate of false confession. Prosecutors around Michigan disagree though, claiming that cops don’t benefit from incarcerating innocent people and that false confessions happen far less frequently that we think. The statistics however, say otherwise.
In the previous article we suggested that you google the Reid Technique of interviewing, which is a three phase process designed to elicit a confession from a suspect. Using the Reid technique, an investigator would tell the suspect that the results of the investigation clearly show that he/she committed the crime in question. The investigator presents the scenario as a form of story in which they already know the outcome, all they need is the suspect’s agreement. It is not a question and answer format, as one would expect.
Another important aspect of the process is the demeanor of the investigator during the interrogation. They present themselves as understanding, patient, and even respectful. The goal is to slowly make the suspect more comfortable with telling the ‘truth’. Another aspect of the process involves the investigator offering the suspect various justifications for why they would have committed the crime, as if it were a perfectly reasonable and understandable course of action. The person being interrogated gains a false sense of security and ends up giving a false confession.
While this probably sounds very familiar (because it’s the feature style of interview used by every TV cop since 21 Jump Street was popular!) it isn’t acceptable. In 2012, a Canadian judge ruled that “stripped to its bare essentials, the Reid technique is a guilt-presumptive, confrontational, psychologically manipulative procedure whose purpose is to extract a confession.” This opinion reflects many people’s belief that the Reid technique is abusive and dishonest, and runs a high risk of resulting in false confessions.
In recent years, several law enforcement agencies in other parts of the world have begun to employ alternative methods for interviewing suspects. In Britain the PEACE method is used (Preparation and Planning, Engage and Explain, Account, Closure and Evaluate), while in Canada the Royal Mounted Police have developed a new method they describe as “less Kojak and more Dr. Phil.” While it’s encouraging to see that there is progress away from coercive and abusive interviewing techniques, we here in the US still have a long way to go! Michigan judges take note.
Join us next time, as we continue this series on false confessions, by looking at exactly how the Reid technique is deployed, and what the process looks like. Until then, if you or a loved one have been falsely accused of a crime, contact us immediately! Don’t wait another second! Your future is on the line here, and you cannot afford to sit around and hope that the cops will get it right in the end. We are available 24/7 to protect your rights and fight for your future! Call our experienced Michigan criminal defense team at 866-766-5245. We can help you.