By: James Orlando, Associate Attorney
This report provides a concise overview of (1) the Reid method of interrogation, (2) critiques of the Reid method, and (3) alternative interrogation techniques.
The Reid method is a system of interviewing and interrogation widely used by police departments in the United States. The term “The Reid Technique of Interviewing and Interrogation” is a registered trademark of John E. Reid and Associates, Inc. According to the company's website, over 500,000 law enforcement and security professionals have attended the company's interview and interrogation training programs since they were first offered in 1974.
Some critics contend that the Reid Technique is premised on certain assumptions about human behavior that are not supported by empirical evidence, and that the technique may lead to false confessions. The company contends that critics mischaracterize the Reid Technique and that false confessions are caused by interrogators applying inappropriate methods not endorsed by the company.
Two alternative interrogation techniques are (1) Preparation and Planning, Engage and Explain, Account, Closure and Evaluate (PEACE), a less confrontational method used in England, and (2) the Kinesic Interview, a method that focuses on recognizing deception.
The Reid Technique involves three components – factual analysis, interviewing, and interrogation. Following is a brief summary of these components; more information is available on the company's website.
The Reid website describes factual analysis as:
an inductive approach where each individual suspect is evaluated with respect to specific observations relating to the crime. Consequently, factual analysis relies not only on crime scene analysis, but also on information learned about each suspect. . . . Applying factual analysis . . . results in establishing an estimate of a particular suspect's probable guilt or innocence based on such things as the suspect's bio-social status (gender, race, occupation, marital status, etc.), opportunity and access to commit the crime, their behavior before and after the crime, their motivations and propensity to commit the crime, and evaluation of physical and circumstantial evidence.
This factual analysis is also intended to “identify characteristics about the suspect and the crime which will be helpful during an interrogation of the suspect believed to be guilty[,]” such as motive or the suspect's personality type.
Behavior Analysis Interview
The Reid website describes the Behavior Analysis Interview (BAI) as a non-accusatory question and answer session, involving both standard investigative questions and “structured 'behavior provoking' questions to elicit behavior symptoms of truth or deception from the person being interviewed.”
The investigator first asks background questions, to establish personal information about the suspect and allow the investigator to evaluate the suspect's “normal” verbal and nonverbal behavior. The investigator then asks “behavior-provoking” questions intended “to elicit different verbal and nonverbal responses from truthful and deceptive suspects.” The investigator will also ask some investigative questions during this stage. The Reid website states that the BAI:
provides objective criteria to render an opinion about the suspect's truthfulness through evaluating responses to the behavior-provoking and investigative questions. In addition, the BAI facilitates the eventual interrogation of guilty suspects . . . by establishing a working rapport with the suspect during the non-accusatory BAI, and developing insight about the suspect and his crime to facilitate the formulation of an interrogation strategy.
The Reid website states that an interrogation “should only occur when the investigator is reasonably certain of the suspect's involvement in the issue under investigation.” There are nine steps to the Reid interrogation technique, briefly described below.
1. The positive confrontation. The investigator tells the suspect that the evidence demonstrates the person's guilt. If the person's guilt seems clear to the investigator, the statement should be unequivocal.
2. Theme development. The investigator then presents a moral justification (theme) for the offense, such as placing the moral blame on someone else or outside circumstances. The investigator presents the theme in a monologue and in sympathetic manner.
3. Handling denials. When the suspect asks for permission to speak at this stage (likely to deny the accusations), the investigator should discourage allowing the suspect to do so. The Reid website asserts that innocent suspects are less likely to ask for permission and more likely to “promptly and unequivocally” deny the accusation. The website states that “[i]t is very rare for an innocent suspect to move past this denial state.”
4. Overcoming objections. When attempts at denial do not succeed, a guilty suspect often makes objections to support a claim of innocence (e.g., I would never do that because I love my job.) The investigator should generally accept these objections as if they were truthful, rather than arguing with the suspect, and use the objections to further develop the theme.
5. Procurement and retention of suspect's attention. The investigator must procure the suspect's attention so that the suspect focuses on the investigator's theme rather than on punishment. One way the investigator can do this is to close the physical distance between himself or herself and the suspect. The investigator should also “channel the theme down to the probable alternative components.”
6. Handling the suspect's passive mood. The investigator “should intensify the theme presentation and concentrate on the central reasons he [or she] is offering as psychological justification . . . [and] continue to display an understanding and sympathetic demeanor in urging the suspect to tell the truth.”
7. Presenting an alternative question. The investigatorshould present two choices, assuming the suspect's guilt and developed as a “logical extension from the theme,” with one alternative offering a better justification for the crime (e.g., “Did you plan this thing out or did it just happen on the spur of the moment?”). The investigator may follow the question with a supporting statement “which encourages the suspect to choose the more understandable side of the alternative.”
8. Having the suspect orally relate various details of the offense. After the suspect accepts one side of the alternative (thus admitting guilt), the investigator should immediately respond with a statement of reinforcement acknowledging that admission. The investigator then seeks to obtain a brief oral review of the basic events, before asking more detailed questions.
9. Converting an oral confession to a written confession. The investigator must convert the oral confession into a written or recorded confession. The website provides some guidelines, such as repeating Miranda warnings, avoiding leading questions, and using the suspect's own language.
CRITIQUES OF REID TECHNIQUE
There has been considerable academic research on various aspects of police interrogation, including whether interrogation methods can lead to false confessions. Below, we briefly describe some criticisms of the Reid Technique, as well as responses to such criticisms by Reid and Associates, Inc. For a more detailed summary of criticisms of the Reid Technique, see this article from Criminal Law Quarterly, a Canadian journal. For more information on the company's response to such criticisms, see this document from Reid's website.
In the “Sources and Other Information” section of this report, we provide links to some studies and commentary on these issues. This report does not attempt to survey the vast range of research on the relationship between interrogation techniques and false confessions. If you would like more information about particular aspects of this issue, please let us know.
Discerning truth or deception
One aspect of the Reid approach is to train investigators to discern when a suspect is lying (e.g., by analyzing nonverbal behavior during the initial interview). Critics question whether training can actually lead investigators to do so, and point to
various studies concerning the ability to discern truth from lying. For example, one frequent critic of the Reid Technique, law professor Richard Leo, argues that extensive social science research has demonstrated:
that people are poor at making accurate judgments of truth and deception in general, that the behavior cues police rely on in particular are not diagnostic of deception, and that investigators cannot distinguish truthful from false denials of guilt at rates significantly greater than chance, but instead routinely make confidently held yet erroneous judgments (Leo 2013, 203).
Reid and Associates, Inc. argues that many such studies have limited applicability to police interrogations. For example, the studies may have (1) involved college students in laboratory settings, with students having low motivation to be believed if innocent or avoid detection if lying, or (2) been conducted by people not trained to interview criminal suspects. The company also points to other studies supporting the contention that training can increase the ability of police to detect when suspects are lying.
Critics argue that various features of the Reid interrogation method may lead certain innocent suspects to confess. For example, one critique argues that “the guilt-presumptive nature” of the Reid method “creates a slippery slope for innocent suspects because it may set in motion a sequence of reciprocal observations and reactions between the suspect and interrogator that serve to confirm the interrogator's belief in the suspect's guilt” (Moore and Fitzsimmons, 513). According to some critics of the Reid Technique, aspects of Reid-style interrogation that may lead to false confessions include (1) misclassification (the police attributing deception to truthful suspects); (2) coercion (including psychological manipulation); and (3) contamination (such as when police present non-public information to a suspect, and the suspect incorporates that information in his or her confession) (Gudjonsson 2012, 695, discussing Leo and Drizin among other studies).
Reid and Associates, Inc. disputes the contention that their methods lead to false confessions. They argue that:
False confessions are not caused by the application of the Reid Technique . . . [but instead] are usually caused by interrogators engaging in improper behavior that is outside of the parameters of the Reid Technique . . . such as threatening inevitable consequences; making a promise of leniency in return for the confession; denying a subject their rights; conducting an excessively long interrogation; etc.
The company also cites court cases upholding their methods or denying the admission of expert testimony that would link those methods to false confessions (e.g., U.S. v. Jacques, 784 F.Supp.2d 59, D. Mass. (2011)).
In England, police generally use a less confrontational interview and interrogation method than is used in the United States. The method is called Preparation and Planning, Engage and Explain, Account, Closure and Evaluate (PEACE). Under the PEACE method, investigators allow a suspect to tell his or her story without interruption, before presenting the suspect with any inconsistencies or contradictions between the story and other evidence. Investigators are prohibited from deceiving suspects during an interview (Meissner et al., 11).
The following information on the steps to the PEACE method is drawn from Authorised Professional Practice (APP), a national body of guidance on policing in the United Kingdom. For more detailed information, see their website.
1. Preparation and Planning.Interviewers should create a written interview plan, focusing on issues such as the objectives of the interview and the order of interviews. Among other things, the plan should include the time a suspect has been in custody, the topics to be covered, and points necessary to prove the offense or provide a defense. Interviewers should consider characteristics of the interviewee that could be relevant to the plan (e.g., cultural background could affect how someone prefers to be addressed). Interviewers may need to consider practical arrangements, such as visiting the scene or the location of the interview.
2. Engage and Explain. The interviewers should engage the individual, including using active listening to establish a rapport with him or her. The interviewers should explain the reasons for the interview and its objectives. They should also explain routines and expectations of the process (e.g., explaining that the interviewers will take notes). Interviewers should encourage the individual to state anything they believe is relevant.
3. Account. The interviewers should use appropriate questions and active listening to obtain the interviewee's account of events. Questions should be short and free of jargon, and can help to clarify and expand the account. Multi-part questions should generally be avoided due to possible confusion, and leading questions should be used only as a last resort.
4. Closure. This stage should be planned to avoid an abrupt end to the interview. Among other things, the interviewers should summarize the person's account of events, allowing the person to make clarifications and ask questions.
5. Evaluate. The interviewers should evaluate the interview to (a) assess how the interviewee's account fits with the investigation as a whole, (b) determine if further action is needed, and (c) reflect on their performance.
The Kinesic Interview method involves analyzing a person's behavior to assess deception. The method has some similarities to the Reid Technique.
Kinesics is the study of nonverbal communication. One author, Stan B. Walters, describes two phases to this process: the “Practical Kinesic Analysis Phase” and the “Practical Kinesic Interrogation Phase.”
During the analysis phase, the interviewer uses several techniques to observe and analyze the subject's behavior “to determine the subject's truthful and deceptive behaviors or at least to determine those areas most sensitive to the subject and, therefore, in need of further attention through verbal inquiry” (Walters 3). Walters describes four fundamental stages of the interview: (1) orientation, (2) narration, (3) cross-examination, and (4) resolution (Id. at 25-29).
The investigator uses information gathered during the first phase to tailor interrogation for the specific subject. Walters describes the interrogator's task of “breaking the cycle of deception” during the interrogation; this includes confronting the suspect's negative-response emotional states (Id. at 209). Walters outlines different interrogation strategies for different personality types.
Walters describes over 30 practical kinesic principles to guide investigators in this process. The “first and most important” such principle is that “No single kinesic behavior, verbal or nonverbal, proves a person is truthful or deceptive” (Id. at 10). The other principles include both general statements of human behavior (people are better able to control verbal than nonverbal kinesic signals) and statements specifically focused on interview or interrogation techniques (to attack a denial, the investigator should review the real or circumstantial evidence with the subject every 3 to 5 minutes).
SOURCES AND ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
College of Policing, Authorised Professional Practice, Investigation: Investigative Interviewing, available at http://www.app.college.police.uk/app-content/investigations/investigative-interviewing/#peace-framework.
Gudjonsson, Gisli H. False Confessions and Correcting Injustices. 46 New Eng. L. Rev. 689 (Summer 2012).
Gudjonsson, Gisli H. The Psychology of Interrogations and Confessions: A Handbook (Wiley 2003).
Leo, Richard A. Why Interrogation Contamination Occurs. 11 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 193 (Fall 2013).
Leo, Richard A. and Steven A. Drizin. The Three Errors: Pathways to False Confession and Wrongful Conviction, in Police Interrogations and False Confessions: Current Research, Practice and Policy Recommendations (G. Daniel Lassiter & Christian A. Meissner eds., 2010).
Meissner, Christian A. et al. Interview and interrogation methods and their effects on true and false confessions. Campbell Systematic Reviews (2012:2013), The Campbell Collaboration, available at www.campbellcollaboration.org/lib/download/2249/.
Moore, Timothy E. and C. Lindsay Fitzsimmons. Justice Imperiled: False Confessions and the Reid Technique. 57 Crim. Law Quarterly 509 (2011). available at http://www.cbc.ca/thenational/includes/pdf/CLQ-2.pdf.
O'Sullivan, M. et al. Police Lie Detection Accuracy: The Effect of Lie Scenario. 33 Law & Hum. Behav. 530 (2009).
John E. Reid and Associates, Inc. website: http://www.reid.com/.
Starr, Douglas. Do police interrogation techniques produce false confessions? The New Yorker (Dec. 9, 2013).
Walters, Stan B. Principles of Kinesic Interview and Interrogation, Second Edition. (CRC Press, 2003).
Deceptive interrogation practices by the police and other law enforcement authorities have existed since the 19th century when Sir Robert Peel formed the London Metropolitan Police in 1829 and the first police forces in the United States were organized. Subject to certain limitations, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the use of deception in the interrogation process. In recent years, however, these practices have come under the microscope due to the emergence of innocence projects and issues surrounding false confessions and wrongful convictions.
Done properly and with integrity, the aim of police interrogation is to successfully elicit incriminating responses from those who have indeed participated in the crime in one way or another. Equally, if not more important, is the ability to clear innocent persons of their participation in the crimes alleged. There are many different interrogation techniques or practices that have different degrees of success. Depending upon the experience of the investigator, a blend of more than one style may be employed. The use of deception by the investigator is a frequent component of any successful criminal interrogation when used effectively and lawfully. Confessions are powerful and compelling evidence when produced before a judge or a jury.
When employed improperly or without due regard to the law in this regard, the consequences can be disastrous. The suspect may immediately recognize that the investigator is not telling the truth. Consequently, the suspect may infer that either the investigator does not know all the facts or is bluffing. In either case, this may have a direct impact on the failure to obtain inculpatory statements or a confession from a guilty party. Even worse, there is always a chance that an innocent person may confess to a crime that they did not commit when subjected to unlawful or improper interrogation techniques and practices.
It must be noted that confessions are critical to the criminal investigative process and to successful case closure. Any notion that those who commit crimes readily admit to doing so is simply without merit. The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently upheld the police use of deception and trickery in the interrogation process. Even in the landmark case of Miranda v. Arizona, which dealt with custodial interrogation practices, the court recognized the legitimate police tactic of deceptive interviewing as long as in-custody suspects have been advised of their constitutional rights prior to the commencement of questioning. Indeed, the police may tell suspects that coperpetrators have made inculpatory statements when they have not, that scientific evidence exists when it does not, and eyewitnesses have identified them as the actors when they have not. The court has, however, held that when the police cross the line from making these types of assertions to actually fabricating evidence to be used in the interrogation, the deceptive practice may result in inadmissibility of the evidence.
In order for a confession to be admissible in court it must have been obtained voluntarily. Suspects cannot be threatened, harmed, or coerced. They cannot be deprived of sleep, food, water, or other necessities in order to produce a confession. They cannot be given promises of any kind, including leniency, for such a purpose. American jurisprudence is replete with rules and remedies for constitutional violations such as these.
Accordingly, the present issues relative to deception are the misrepresentations, lies, and trickery used by the police for the purpose of obtaining confessions or inculpatory admissions that take place without regard to the traditional bounds of constitutional protections. In other words, in custody suspects who have not been informed of their rights prior to questioning by the police, or who have been threatened or promised leniency in order to encourage a confession whether accurate or false, have existing means with which to challenge the admissibility of the inculpatory statements.
Deceptions used by the police designed to lead in-custody suspects to believe that they are not being interrogated, being interrogated for another purpose, or that their cell block confidant is truly that (as opposed to an undercover agent) may lead to violations, depending on the jurisdiction and the particular stage of the legal proceedings, of the suspect’s Fifth or Sixth Amendment rights. Moreover, lies regarding legal consequences should the suspect confess or not confess are prohibited, and confessions obtained under such circumstances are quite likely to be suppressed.
Lawful deceptive police practices are designed to encourage guilty persons to admit to their wrongdoings. The deceptions themselves may be subtly implied or explicitly stated by the investigator. For example, a blank video tape or a suspect’s photograph may be placed in the interrogation room within sight of the suspect. The idea is to lead the suspect to believe that these “props” represent inculpatory evidence, and thus, assist in persuading the persons who committed the crimes to admit to their acts.
There is no existing empirical research that could lead to the belief that reasonably intelligent and competent adults, when confronted with such deceptions, will admit to having committed crimes when they were not in fact the guilty actors. Take for instance an innocent woman in downtown Manhattan who fit the description of someone who had robbed a bank in the vicinity of where she was spotted by police. Confronted with statements that her fingerprints were found on the hold-up note in a bank she never entered, would she likely say: “You got me. I did the robbery”?
On the other hand, extreme caution must be exercised when interviewing suspects who are members of vulnerable populations. These include juveniles, the elderly, or individuals who may be cognitively challenged or have learning disabilities, mental illness, or other special needs. Numerous cases have been reported and verified where persons of one or more of these descriptions admitted to crimes that they did not commit, and they did so at the deceptive suggestions of the investigators.
Within recent years there have been social, legislative, and judicial movements toward mandatory audio recording or videotaping of interrogations, particularly those involving serious crimes. This can be an excellent tool as long as the recording equipment is not within the sight of the suspects and is undertaken without their knowledge. This is problematic in a minority of U.S. states where the audio recording cannot be done without the consent of the suspect. In any event, the recording can show whether the suspect had been coerced in any way into giving the confession or if promises of leniency were made.
More particular to this discussion, the recording can also serve as the basis of whether deceptive or untrue statements were made to the suspect. But neither these statements nor the video recording can reveal whether suspects were induced to admit to crimes that they did not commit.
This is done through corroboration of the confession, which is of paramount importance to the successful interrogation. Corroboration ensures that only those who committed or were otherwise involved in the crime make admissions of guilt that will be used against them. This is important for all confessions regardless of the age or mental status of the suspect. The key is providing little to no details of the crime save for necessary general facts to set the stage for the interrogation. Once a guilty person admits to having committed the crime, the corroboration aspect, albeit extremely important, typically comes very easily.
In the end one is not talking about Miranda rights or other constitutional protections. The use of deceptive interrogation practices must be examined outside of these existing protections afforded to criminal suspects. When used properly, deceptive techniques and misrepresentations in the interrogation process can be quite effective in eliciting incriminating responses from guilty parties. But those admissions must be corroborated. The aim is for the suspect to provide details of the crimes that could only have been known by someone who committed the crime, was present during the crime, or was provided these specifics by the person who did indeed commit the crime.
Investigators should be extremely cautious of admissions or confessions made by individuals, particularly those of vulnerable populations, where the detailed corroboration of the crime is not provided by the suspect during the interrogation. This of course does not mean that the individual did not commit the crime, but deception-based interrogation techniques that lead to confessions must be corroborated by the suspect in order to avoid a false confession that will ultimately be used against the defendant in court.
- Declue, Gregory. Interrogations and Disputed Confessions: A Manual for Forensic Psychological Practice. Sarasota, FL: Professional Resource Press,
- Feld, Barry. Kids, Cops, and Confessions: Inside the Interrogation Room. New York: New York University Press, 2012.
- Inabu, Fred, John Reid, Joseph Buckley, and Brian Jayne. Essentials of the Reid Technique: Criminal Interrogations and Confessions. Boston: Jones & Bartlett, 2004.
- Kamisar, Yale, Wayne LaFave, Jerold Israel, and Nancy King. Basic Criminal Procedure: Cases, Comments and Questions. Eagan, MN: West Publishing, 2012.
- Napier, Michael. Behavior, Truth and Deception: Applying Profiling and Analysis to the Interview Process. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2010.
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