FOR THE MEDIA

Click here for our position paper on some of the issues involved in false confession cases.

The following are excerpts from our books and training manuals that might be helpful as you prepare your story. Our two books are Criminal Interrogation and Confessions 4th edition, 2001 by Fred Inabu, John Reid, Joseph Buckley and Brian Jayne; and, The Investigator Anthology, 1999 by Brian Jayne and Joseph Buckley. The training manual that each student receives at our training program is entitled, "The Reid Technique of Interviewing and Interrogation."

The 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 consequences:

"It doesn't matter if you tell me you did this, you're still going to prison."

"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."

F
rom 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 charges

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 to establish."

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 wearing."

"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)".