Interrogation (Forensic Science)
Criminal investigation involves the interviewing of witnesses and victims as well as more focused interrogation of (potential or actual) suspects. The verb “interrogate” suggests forceful questioning that has an adversarial (if not accusatory) character, and this raises issues of both effectiveness (What methods are likely to be effective?) and ethics (What methods are acceptable?).
Over time, older “third degree” methods of interrogation have given way to social pressures to sustain the integrity of individuals, even suspects, who may, after all, be innocent. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1966 ruling in Miranda v. Arizona—reinforcing the importance of the right to remain silent, the right not to be questioned except in the presence of legal counsel, and the right to be informed about these rights—is the best known of many decisions. The Court, however, has also declined to rule all police use of deception out of bounds (for example, in the case of Frazier v. Cupp, 1969).
Given legal limitations on police questioning—and in the absence of any really compelling purely physical technique (lie detector, “truth” serum, brain scans)—it has proved necessary for law enforcement to develop alternative approaches to interrogation, although some traditional techniques (such as “good cop/bad cop”) remain popular.
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The Reid Technique (Forensic Science)
One of the most widely influential models for questioning suspects is the Reid Technique, which was developed by John E. Reid and Associates, an organization that provides training in the technique. The Reid Technique involves an elaborate “nine steps” of interrogation. The heart of the technique consists in unwavering confidence in the suspect’s guilt and the creative elaboration of alternative explanations (known as “theme development”) that sympathetically provide the suspect with an opportunity to shift the blame for the criminal occurrence to other people or to circumstances. On one hand, the suspect’s denial of involvement is limited, discouraged, or dismissed (on the principle that truly innocent suspects will not move past denial, no matter what, and that guilty suspects will find it more difficult to confess if they have frequently denied responsibility). On the other hand, the suspect is presented with a “choice” in which either option is an admission of guilt, but one appears more morally acceptable than the other. (“Did this just happen, or was it premeditated?” “Is this the first time this has happened, or have you done this sort of thing frequently before?”)
The Reid Technique originally grew out of work with the polygraph, but it has developed into a more general kind of behavioral assessment. Its proponents see it as carefully constructed not to be coercive in its elicitation of...
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False Confessions (Forensic Science)
Modern forensic science recognizes the need to guard against false confessions, which have been proposed by social scientists as a leading cause of wrongful conviction. Richard A. Leo and his colleagues, for example, suggested in 2006 that of more than 170 established, DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)-evidence-supported exonerations of wrongfully convicted persons, between one-fifth and one-fourth of the initial convictions had “resulted in whole or in part from police-induced false confessions.”
Joseph P. Buckley, president of John E. Reid and Associates, has argued that the cases discussed by Leo and others “do not provide any scientific basis for the claim that police interrogation techniques that conform to the guidelines established by the courts result in false confessions.” However, he does concede that they may have demonstrated that “illegal interrogation procedures can cause innocent people to confess.” Leo and his colleagues believe that “properly trained” law-enforcement personnel understand the need for objective verification of confessions but recognize that many injustices may result from inadequate training or improper motivation of interrogators or from poor quality control. They argue that videotape recording of the entire process of interrogation would enable courts to detect the subtle influence of cognitive and emotional bias on the ability of suspects to make reasonable (and uncoerced)...
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Harsh Interrogation (Forensic Science)
Especially since the destruction of the World Trade Center as the result of terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and the emergence of the “war on terrorism,” questions about torture, once largely regarded as settled by the Geneva Convention and other international agreements, have reappeared in discussions about “harsh” or “enhanced” interrogation techniques. The discussion has not always distinguished which government agency (the Central Intelligence Agency, military intelligence, police) is treating which kind of suspect (terrorist, prisoner of war, enemy combatant).
With improbable but dire (“ticking bomb”) examples, apologists have defended extreme measures in interrogation as “necessary.” Critics have claimed that such measures produce unreliable information as well as violate fundamental moral principles. The long-term relevance of such measures to ordinary forensic practice (especially at the international level) remains to be seen.
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Further Reading (Forensic Science)
Dershowitz, Alan M. Is There a Right to Remain Silent? Coercive Interrogation and the Fifth Amendment After 9/11. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Well-known Harvard Law School constitutional expert, a leading voice in the reassessment of torture, discusses the U.S. Supreme Court’s treatment of preventive interrogation techniques.
Guiora, Amos N. Constitutional Limits on Coercive Interrogation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Law professor with a background in the Israel Defense Forces discusses the tensions between national security and civil rights and argues for a “hybrid” category of detainees distinct from both prisoners of war and traditional criminals.
Inbau, Fred E., John E. Reid, Joseph P. Buckley, and Brian C. Jayne. Criminal Interrogation and Confessions. 4th ed. Boston: Jones & Bartlett, 2004. Standard work, sometimes referred to as the bible of interrogation, explains the widely utilized Reid Technique.
Leo, Richard A. Police Interrogation and American Justice. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2008. A longtime critic of the role of interrogation in the production of false confessions offers a treatise on what he thinks is wrong with American police and judicial practices.
McCoy, Alfred W. A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror. New York: Henry Holt, 2006. Presents a...
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Interrogation (World of Forensic Science)
The aim of a criminal interrogation is to obtain information from a suspect that the suspect does not want to divulge. Interrogation must be carried out in a manner that does not violate the suspect's civil rights or compromise the legal admissibility of the obtained information. There is often confusion between the concepts of interview and interrogation. The distinction is this: an interrogation occurs when one person asks all the questions and the other gives the answers; an interview is a conversation where both people ask and respond to questions. A thorough interview should always precede an interrogation, providing a foundation for the questioner to gather essential information about the subject's feelings, motivations, fears, and belief systems, which can then be used to direct an interrogation. Through the course of the interview, the subject is asked questions about him/herself, others involved in the event, and the crime itself. The interview process should be conducted in an informal and non-threatening manner; the goal is to obtain verbal and nonverbal information about the subject while building rapport and determining whether an interrogation is warranted.
A cardinal rule in interrogation is that there one best chance at obtaining a confession or the desired information, and it occurs the first time a subject is interrogated. There are several facets of interrogation that significantly increase the probability of successful outcome. The first involves laying adequate groundwork and thoroughly preparing for the interrogation.
The interrogator must be thoroughly familiar with the case facts, particularly those concerning the crime's commission. The interrogator gains immeasurable credibility and stature if he or she can communicate knowledge of how the crime was committed to the subject. Similarly, it is essential for the interrogator to become familiar with the subject's belief system, feelings, and attitude about the crime and victim. Psychologically, the interrogator must understand the subject's conflicts, needs, and goals in order to best elicit truthful information.
Interrogation is more direct than interviewing; its only goal is to elicit a confession or admission of guilty knowledge. The interrogator presents the subject with facts and information, and does not solicit new information. It is therefore critical for the interrogator to have previously amassed case facts and information with which to persuade the subject to tell the truth. The more experienced the interrogator and the more thorough the advance preparation, the more convincing the arguments will be.
There are several universal defense mechanisms that, if properly recognized and utilized by the interrogator, will greatly increase the likelihood of obtaining information: minimization, projection, and rationalization. Properly exploiting these defense mechanisms allows the subject to maintain a semblance of dignity while still being held accountable by the interrogator for their actions. If the interrogator minimizes the gravity of the incident by referring to it as an accident or an unfortunate mistake, the subject may also internally minimize the perceived impact of the incident and feel less resistant to talking about it By suggesting that someone else (often the victim) might share in the blame for the incident, the interrogator uses projection to allow the subject to feel that the incident is excusable. When an interrogator suggests that he or she can understand the subject's perspective (rationalization), it conveys empathy and allows the subject to feel like a decent individual who was in a bad circumstance at the time of the incident. By using careful wording, the interrogator can simultaneously decrease the subject's feeling of shame about the event and increase feelings of hopefulness about the ultimate outcome. The interrogator must be extremely careful not to mislead the subject into a belief in legal leniency or to in any way suggest denying the subject due process. Either event could lead to legal inadmissibility of the confession.
The interrogator presents a set of themes and arguments over the course of the interrogation, as many times and in as many ways as necessary to obtain a confession. In order to ensure a successful outcome, the interrogator must continually confront (degree and manner of confrontation must be person- and situation-specific) the subject with facts and information about the case and gradually limit the subject's ability to deny participation therein. One way to do this is by repeatedly stating the subject's participation in the incident(s) and questioning only the justification or motive for the event. Once the subject begins to acknowledge responsibility or participation in the crime, the interrogator can offer the individual reasons to confess without loss of dignity, such as an opportunity to tell his or her side of the story, to obtain psychological help, or to play a positive role in the ultimate outcome of the case. Successful interrogation outcome depends on maintaining a balance of the environmental, situational, and personality factors at play, while utilizing every available psychological technique and without compromising the legal integrity of the process.
SEE ALSO Criminal profiling; Ethical issues; Polygraphs; Profiling; Psychological profile.