Accident Scenario: Richard Ofshe claims that the Reid Technique teaches investigators how to elicit false confessions through the use of what he terms the accident scenario. He cites page 103 of our text Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, 3rd ed. Inbau, F., Reid, J. & Buckley, J., 1986 Williams and Wilkins.

Response: The interrogation technique Ofshe refers to is a two part technique. If the investigator is unable to persuade the suspect to tell the truth through the use of standard interrogation themes, it may be suggested to the suspect that the crime was committed accidentally or inadvertently (a gun went off accidentally during a robbery, a fire was inadvertently started when the suspect was playing with matches).

In the case of a theft, the suggestion may be that the suspect merely intended to borrow the money and was unable to return it. If the suspect acknowledges physical responsibility for the crime, the investigator would engage in the second part of the technique which is to point out inconsistencies between the suspect's version of events and what actually happened in an effort to learn the true circumstances behind the act. It is clearly our position that an innocent suspect would not be more apt to admit killing another person accidentally, for example, than on purpose. This statement assumes, of course, that the innocent suspect was not threatened in any way or subjected to duress.

Richard Ofshe's testimony that this technique is designed to elicit a false confession is certainly not accurate. The technique is not designed to, nor is it apt to cause an innocent person to falsely accept responsibility for a crime he or she did not commit. At most, it allows a guilty suspect to accept physical responsibility for committing his crime coupled with a false intention behind his act. A suspect who originally stated that he was working at the time his girlfriend was shot to death and, through the use of this technique, now states that he did shoot his girlfriend "accidentally" has not offered a false confession. Rather, he has, in all probability, offered an incorrect circumstance surrounding his factual statement that he is responsible for shooting the victim.

The use of an Alternative Question: Critics have argued that when an innocent suspect is offered an alternative question, e.g., "Was this whole thing your idea, or were you talked into it?" that he has no choice but to confess because both options are incriminating.

Response: All suspects, guilty or innocent, have a third option when presented with an alternative question which is to not accept either choice and maintain their position of non-involvement. This is true even when the investigator actively encourages the suspect to accept the positive choice. "Joe if this whole thing was your idea that tells me that you have a criminal mind. But if you were just talked into doing this against your better judgment, that would be important to include in my report. You were just talked into it, weren't you?" Even under this circumstance many suspects we interrogate simply respond, "I didn't do it."

Coerced Compliant Confessions: This describes a confession resulting from threats of, or actual physical abuse to a suspect during an interrogation. This may also be claimed under circumstances of duress, where the suspect was questioned for an unreasonably long period of time. The principle is that a suspect confesses to avoid physical injury or to terminate an interrogation that he can no longer physically or psychologically tolerate.

Response : Courts have long recognized that physical coercion can result in not only involuntary confessions, but false ones as well. Many of the clearly documented cases of false confessions over the last 100 years have been the result of coercion or duress.

Clearly, the Reid Technique concurs with this view and teaches never to threaten a suspect with physical force, or to use physical force as a means to obtain a confession. In addition, we teach that the length of an interrogation should be restricted to a reasonable time period based on such factors as the crime under investigation, the suspects age, intelligence and experience with the criminal justice system.

Coerced Internalized Confession: This describes a hypothetical situation where the investigator convinces an innocent person that he is guilty of the crime even though the suspect has no recollection of committing it. These claims often, but not always, are made under circumstances in which the suspect's memory could have been impaired at the time the crime was committed, e.g., intoxication, epilepsy, multiple personality disorder.

Response: While many suspects may claim that they confessed because the investigator convinced them that they must be guilty, there are no clearly documented cases of this happening. Claiming a confession was coerced internalized is an attractive position for a defendant to take because he can claim that he believed he was telling the truth when he confessed, but afterwards realized that the investigator only convinced him of his guilt. This is not to say that the phenomenon of a coerced internalized confession could never occur, but because it involves cognitive processing and trusting a defendant's statements after he retracts his confession, it is almost impossible to prove and once the claim is made, may be difficult to disprove.

The Reid Technique teaches that it is improper to attempt to convince a suspect that he is guilty of the crime. Often the suspect invites this discussion by saying something like, "I don't know. Maybe I did this but I don't remember." We teach that the investigator should respond to this statement by telling the suspect that we only want him to tell us things he can remember. As with all confessions, the best test of trustworthiness is to have the suspect relate information about the crime that only the guilty person would know.

Minimization Maximization: Minimization describes a technique in which the investigator mitigates the offense and downplays its seriousness. Maximization describes exaggerating the strength of evidence against the suspect and magnitude of charges. It is argued that the use of these techniques causes false confessions.

Response: The minimization/maximization technique has been equated with the use of an alternative question in the Reid Technique. The alternative question presents the suspect with two incriminating choices concerning some aspect of the crime. One choice is presented to be more understandable than the other. In a theft case an example would be, "Did you use that money to pay bills and buy things for your children or did you blow it on fancy clothes or drugs for yourself?" There is no question that the positive choice (paying bills) is more psychologically appealing than the negative choice (selfish motives). In truth, perhaps many suspects believe that if their crime was somewhat justified, or could have been worse that they deserve special treatment. However, the Reid Technique clearly admonishes against telling a suspect that if the positive side of the alternative question is true that he will receive leniency, or if the negative side is true that his sentence will be more severe.

The use of an interrogation theme has been suggested to represent a minimization technique. This is correct to the extent that an interrogation theme focuses the suspect's mind onto the moral justifications for his crime and away from the pending consequences associated with it. It is important to understand that the theme does not attempt to plant new ideas in the suspect's mind -- a suspect guilty of a crime will have already justified it long before the investigator talks to him. The theme merely reinforces the guilty suspect's existing justifications for committing the crime. Under no circumstances do we advocate that the investigator state or imply that if the suspect's crime was morally justified that he will receive leniency. Realistically, however, this hope occurs to every guilty suspect and it would be psychologically wrong for the investigator to dispel the suspect's wishful thinking.

Pragmatic Implication: This is a theory proposed by Kassin which posits that a subject of an interrogation may cognitively perceive threats or promises even though the investigator never threatened the suspect or offered the suspect a promise of leniency. This concept is frequently used by opponents to argue that the Reid Technique elicits confessions through the use of threats and promises.

Response: It is human nature for a suspect guilty of a crime to believe that he deserves some special consideration. We have yet to encounter a guilty suspect who perceives his crime as so terrible that he insists on being punished to the full extent of the law. Applying a good deal of common sense when addressing the issue of an implied promise of leniency, a supreme court judge stated, "...even if a suspect... influenced perhaps by wishful thinking... assumed he would get more lenient treatment... (this) would not, as a matter of law, make the confession inadmissible." State v. Nunn 212 Ore. 546,321 P.2d 356 (1958)

Like other psychological labels, the claim of pragmatic implication is easy to raise in any suppression hearing and difficult to disprove -- even if the entire interrogation was video-taped. After all, no threats or promises were made because the implication only exists in the suspect's mind. Existing interrogation law that address confessions obtained under conditions of threats or promises relates to specific, identifiable threats or promises. To expand this definition to prohibit interrogation statements designed to allow the suspect to engage in wishful thinking or unwarranted worries so undermines the interrogation process as to leave the investigator powerless to elicit the truth from guilty suspects. Furthermore, there is no evidence that supports a concern that innocent suspects subjected to the same interrogation techniques would choose to confess rather than to maintain their innocence. Exempt from this statement would be suspects who, because of mental incapacitation or a similar handicap, would not respond in a rational manner to persuasive reasoning.

The Reid Nine Steps of Interrogation® "causes false confessions": A recent 20/20 segment reported on a homicide investigation in which a 14 year old suspect confessed, but later retracted his confession. Nonetheless, the suspect was convicted of murder. The investigator who obtained the confession had attended our basic three day course on interviewing and interrogation. The implication was that the suspect was innocent and that a false confession was obtained using the Reid Technique.

Response We have no definitive knowledge as to whether or not the suspect offered a true or false confession or if the Reid Technique was properly used in obtaining the confession. It is interesting to note that the circumstantial case 20/20 presented made it sound almost impossible for this suspect to have committed the murder, and yet he was found guilty during a six week trial.

Certainly, when interrogating suspects of a younger age or lower IQ, the investigator must be cautious in the level of domination and persuasion involved in eliciting the first admission of guilt. In addition, extra effort should be made to develop corroborative information from the suspect that can be verified through further investigation.