Monday, December 2, 2013

Do Police Interrogation Techniques Produce False Confessions?

In “The Interview” (p. 40), Douglas Starr examines the Reid Technique of interrogation, and investigates whether it can prompt innocent people to confess to crimes they didn’t commit. The Reid Technique, Starr writes, “has influenced nearly every aspect of modern police interrogations, from the setup to the interview room to the behavior of detectives.” Police forces, the military, the F.B.I., the C.I.A., the Secret Service—“almost anyone whose job involves extracting the truth from those less than willing to provide it”—have been trained in the method. John E. Reid & Associates, named for the method’s founder, claims that its trainees can get suspects to confess eighty per cent of the time. “A growing number of scientists and legal scholars, though, have raised concerns about Reid-style interrogation,” Starr writes. “Of the three hundred and eleven people exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing, more than a quarter had given false confessions—including notorious cases, such as the Central Park Five.” The full extent of the problem is unknown—there is no national database of wrongful convictions. “But false confessions, which often lead to these convictions, are not rare,” Starr writes, “and experts say that Reid-style interrogations can produce them.” 

The Reid Technique begins with an interview based on the questioning style of polygraph testing. If a suspect is thought to be lying, the interrogator proceeds to the method’s second phase, in which he seeks to present the accused’s guilt—bluffing about evidence, if need be—to garner a confession. The leading expert on false confessions, Saul Kassin, “believes that the Reid Technique is inherently coercive,” Starr writes. “The interrogator’s refusal to listen to a suspect’s denials creates feelings of hopelessness,” and the confession becomes an escape hatch. One former homicide detective, who used the Reid Technique for years, began to doubt its credibility after he led an investigation that resulted in an innocent woman confessing to being an accomplice to murder. He was mystified, but when he reviewed the tapes later he discovered ways in which he and his partners fed incriminating details to the suspect. His subsequent research into false confessions led him to an alternative to Reid-style interrogations, called the PEACE technique, widely used in Britain, which instructs police not to seek confessions at all but, rather, to gather evidence and information, almost as a journalist would. Bluffing is prohibited. “I think the Reid Technique was a child of its time,” one of the psychologists who developed the PEACE technique says, noting that science has moved on. Starr reports that “some American law-enforcement officers are trying to develop approaches similar to PEACE.” While Kassin—who has spoken to many police departments and prosecutors’ offices—notes that interrogation can be improved in the U.S., he holds out little hope that it can be overhauled entirely. Starr writes, “The culture of confrontation, he feels, is too embedded in our society.” Please see this link; A PDF is attached:

How DNA contamination can affect court cases

How DNA contamination can affect court cases is the title of this important article published in 2012.