False Confessions: How could that POSSIBLY happen?

Imagine being held by the police for questioning about a crime. You’re in a small room, facing the pressure from multiple officers and investigators who want you to admit to a crime that you know you didn’t commit. They continually pound you with questions until you don’t think you can take anymore. Do you think you could be pushed to the point where you tell the police what they want to hear, even if it’s not true?

When police interrogate a suspect, they follow the steps laid out in the Reid Technique. Besides a behavioral analysis and a factual analysis of the circumstances surrounding the crime, the technique also lays out the 9 important steps of interrogation. These steps are outlined as follows:

1. Step 1- Direct Confrontation: Lead the suspect to understand how the evidence connects them to the crime. Give the suspect an early opportunity to explain why the crime took place.
2. Step 2- Try to shift the blame away from the suspect to some other person or circumstances that prompted the suspect to commit the crime. This creates excuses for why the crime happened.
3. Step 3- Discourage the suspect from denying his guilt.
4. Step 4- When the suspect gives reasons for why he or she could not have committed the crime, use these to move towards the confession.
5. Step 5- Continue to act sincere so that the suspect is more willing to talk 6. Step 6- Move the discussion towards offering alternatives to what could have happened. If the suspect cries, it is reasonable to assume guilt 7. Step 7- Give the suspect two choices for what could have happened. Guilt is admitted when the suspect chooses one of the options, since there is always the third option (that the suspect did not commit the crime).
8. Step 8- Have the suspect repeat the admission of guilt in front of witness and develop supporting evidence to back up the confession.
9. Step 9- Document the confession and have the suspect make a recorded statement (audio, video, or written).

From the steps outlined above, it is clear that there are many places in the interrogation process where a “suspect” could unwittingly fall into the police trap and admit their “guilt”. Steps 6 and 7 are particularly worrisome to me. Personally, I could imagine a number of people caught up in a police interrogation without any assistance. Most of them would likely cry at some point. For a police officer to unjustly assume that a person is crying because they are guilty is nothing short of absurd.

Step 7 of the interrogation technique appears to be a complete trap. The officer gives two possible ways the crime could have been committed and you are forced to choose one of those ways. They do not verbalize the fact that you can choose the third option of innocence. By this point in the interrogation, the police have already assumed you’re guilty at least once (if you cry), so they are already focused on your supposed involvement in the crime. Questioning the options provided to you by police will not win you any favors with the police and it is likely they will also assume you are trying to hide something. There is almost no way to assert your innocence during this process without raising a red flag for the police.

Critics of this technique have argued that the technique induces false confessions because the process is so guilt focused and psychologically manipulative. The police are required to make judgments about deceit, but many studies have shown that people are “poor intuitive judges of truth and deception.” Furthermore, studies have shown that trained detectives with on-the-job experience perform “only slightly better than chance” (which is 50%). (For more information, see these posts). (Here).

It is easy to see that there are some serious traps to fall into while being questioned by the police. Because the police are focused on guilt from the very beginning of the interview, it is important that you remain calm and collected. Additionally, it is important to remember that you have a right to remain silent and you have the right to have an attorney present during the questioning. Having an attorney present is particularly important because they can keep you from falling into the traps set out by the police.

False confessions happen all the time. As much as we hope that the police are being honest and protecting our best interest, it is likely that they are feeling the pressure to find out who committed the crime and solve the case as quickly as possible. Unless you advocate for your rights and protect yourself from being manipulated by the questions, it is very possible the police will get a false confession before you even know it has happened!

If you ever find yourself in a situation were you believe the police have obtained a false confession, please feel free to contact the skilled attorneys at Coxwell & Associates today so that we can discuss your rights. Merrida Coxwell has over 32 years of experience helping Mississippians solve their legal problems. If you are interested in reading more go to Representative Cases on this website.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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