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).
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
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