Supreme Court of Canada has approved of the techniques that we teach
at our training seminars on The Reid Technique of Interviewing and
Interrogation. We have written an article comparing the Supreme
Court's decision in the Oickle case to another Canadian lower court
decision in a different case that properly found a confession inadmissible
that did not adhere to principles The Reid Technique. Click
here for the complete article.
From the training manual, "The Reid Technique
of Interviewing and Interrogation" (p.49):
Do not make statements which could be perceived as promises of leniency:
"I want to help you out on this thing."
"It would be best (better) if you told me what happened."
"If you were drunk when this happened, I can explain that to the
judge who will probably give you a break."
Avoid statements that imply inevitable
"It doesn't matter if you tell me you did this, you're still going
"There isn't a judge or jury in the country who would believe you.
I can guarantee that you are going to be convicted of this."
From the training manual, "The
Reid Technique of Interviewing and Interrogation" (p.73):
The alternative question should not threaten consequences or offer
promises of leniency. Examples of improper alternative questions:
"Do you want to cooperate with me and tell me what happened, or
spend the next five to seven years behind bars?"
"Do you want to be charged with first degree murder, which will
mean life in prison, or was this just manslaughter?"
"Are you going to get this straightened out today, or do you want
to spend a few days in jail?"
From our web page, Monthly Investigator Tip
(under Helpful Info button), August, 1999, "Legal
Consideration When Asking an Alternative Question"
There are a number of skills involved in presenting an alternative
question during an interrogation. These include selecting the proper
question, asking the question at the proper time, and asking it
in the proper way. Of paramount importance, however, is that the
alternative question must be phrased in a legally acceptable manner.
In essence, a properly formulated alternative question must not
offer a promise of leniency to the suspect nor threaten the suspect
with inevitable consequences. When presenting an alternative question
the following guidelines should be followed:
(1) The alternative question should not make any mention of legal
An alternative question that violates this guideline, and is therefore
improper, is, "Did you plan on killing her, in which case
it will mean first degree murder and life in prison, or did this
just happen in the heat of passion which would just be manslaughter?"
This suspect is essentially being told that he will face reduced
charges if he confesses to manslaughter rather than first degree
murder. A proper alternative question to ask in this case
is, "Did you plan on doing this since the day you got married or
did it pretty much happen on the spur of the moment because of the
fight you had?" With this latter question, no mention whatsoever
of a possible consequence is made.
(2) The alternative question should not threaten inevitable consequences
A suspect must be able to reject both sides of an alternative question
without fear of facing adverse real consequences because of that
decision. During an interrogation these negative consequences are
often presented as a threat of inevitable consequences, e.g., confess
to me or suffer this negative consequence. An improper alternative
question that threatens inevitable consequences in a non-custodial
interrogation is, "Do you want to cooperate with me and confess
or do you want me to lock you in jail where you can sit for the
next two or three days?" The choice this suspect faces is to either
confess or lose his freedom; he is not being offered the choice
of rejecting both sides of the alternative question without facing
a real negative consequence. A proper alternative question
to consider in this case may be, "Are you sorry this happened or
don't you care?"
Another example of an improper alternative question that
threatens an inevitable consequence is, "If you don't tell me about
the sexual contact you had with your daughter your kids will be
taken away and you will never see them again." One of the guidelines
governing confession admissibility is that the confession must be
essentially the product of the suspect's free will. When the impetus
for confessing is to avoid a jail cell or to be able to see one's
children, the statement is clearly the result of compulsion. A good
rule to follow in this regard is to use alternative choices that
address some aspect of the crime, e.g., "Did you force your daughter
to touch your bare penis or did she do it on her own?"
(3) The alternative question should not offer a promise of leniency
Courts have consistently ruled that a confession obtained in conjunction
with a promise of leniency was improperly obtained. Therefore, the
following alternative question is improper: "If you've done
this dozens of times before, that's one thing. But, if this was
just the first time it happened I can explain that to the prosecutor
and work out a deal for you." Not only is it psychologically improper
to bring up legal terminology during an interrogation (possible
charges, the judge or prosecutor), but the mere mention of legal
issues may invite a claim of an actual or perceived promise of leniency.
A proper way to ask the previous alternative question is,
"If you've done this dozens of times before that's one thing. But
if this was just the first time it happened that would be important
From Criminal Interrogation and Confessions:
"Moreover, we are opposed to the use of any
interrogation tactic or technique that is apt to make an innocent
person confess. We are opposed, therefore, to the use of force,
threats of force, or promises of leniency." (p. xii)
"During the presentation of any theme based
upon the morality factor, caution must be taken to avoid any indication
that the minimization of the moral blame will relieve the suspect
of criminal responsibility." (p.93)
"As earlier stated, the interrogator must
avoid any expressed or intentionally implied statement to the effect
that because of the minimized seriousness of the offense, the suspect
is to receive a lighter punishment." (p.100)
"In applying this technique of condemning
the accomplice, the interrogator must proceed cautiously and must
refrain from making any comments to the effect that the blame cast
on an accomplice thereby relieves the suspect of legal responsibility
for his part in the commission of the offense." (p. 114)
"... it is also a fact that most confessors
to crimes of a serious nature will lie about some aspect of the
occurrence, even though they may have disclosed the full truth regarding
the main event. They will lie about some detail of the crime for
which they have a greater feeling of shame than that which they
experienced with respect to the main event itself." (p. 106)
From The Investigator Anthology
"During theme development, caution must be
exercised, however, not to tell the suspect that if the crime was
committed for a morally acceptable reason that the suspect will
be accorded leniency." (p. 414)
"Lies of justification and omission are commonplace
in written confessions. Many of these lies represent the suspect's
attempt to present his crime in the most favorable light, others
have a more direct bearing, such as protecting the name of an accomplice
or concealing involvement in another crime." (p. 472)
"Some confessions contain misinformation because of the suspect's
perceptual distortions. During a kidnapping and murder of a child,
the suspect may have vivid recollections of committing the crime,
but have no specific recollections of the clothes the child was
"Many crimes are committed when the suspect
is experiencing intense emotions (fear, anger, frustration). Just
as victims tend to focus on the robber's weapon during a robbery,
the emotions a guilty suspect experiences can bias attention and
memory retrieval of specific details.
As cognitive psychologist Daniel Schacter
writes, "When a person has actually experienced trauma, the central
core of the experience is almost always well remembered; if distortion
does occur, it is most likely to involve specific details.
" Searching for Memory: The Brain, The Mind and the Past 1996 (p.473)".