We have listed below a few of the research articles that police interrogation critics have published, and our responses to them. This list is followed by a more extensive list of research articles on the topics of police interrogation techniques and false confessions.

Bedau, H. & Radlet, M. "Miscarriages of Justice in Potentially Capital Cases," Stanford Law Review, 1987 40, 21-179


The authors reviewed 350 cases occurring during the last century in which they claim an innocent defendant was convicted. This research is frequently cited by Ofshe and others as proof that police interrogations routinely result in false confessions.


The authors use this study to support the claim of coerced internalized false confessions. Indeed, if a suspect believed that he may have committed a crime and was then presented with evidence that he committed the crime it appears plausible that the suspect may then confess to the crime. However, the issue is how often is an innocent suspect uncertain as to whether or not he raped a woman, robbed a liquor store or murdered his wife? If a man walked into a police station and reported that he may have struck a pedestrian while driving home the previous night, and indeed there was a hit and run accident in the area described by the individual, what is the likelihood that this man is innocent? Mistakenly believing that one pressed the wrong key on a computer keyboard (especially when there is outside pressure to type more quickly) would be typical of human nature. It is a huge leap in logic to generalize that finding to criminal acts which involve specific decisions, and definite knowledge.

Kassin, S. & Fong, C."I'm Innocent!: Effects of Training on Judgments of Truth and Deception in the Interrogation Room", Law and Human Behavior, 1999, Vol 23 No. 5


Video-taped "interrogations" of students assigned the role of either being innocent or guilty of a mock crime were reviewed by student observers. These interrogations, which lasted an average of 4.5 minutes involved the subject first offering an alibi and then the investigator becoming angry and saying, " Damn it, you were caught red-handed so stop lying to me. I want to know minute by minute where you were and what you doing before you were picked up."

Half of the student observers received no training and the other half watched two 15- minute video tapes on the Reid Technique. While neither the untrained nor trained observers were able to identify truthful or deceptive subjects above chance levels, there was a statistical difference between their respective accuracies where the trained observers performed more poorly than untrained ones. The researchers concluded that the behavioral information taught by Reid and Associates leads to inaccurate opinions of truth or deception.


It is almost impossible to duplicate, through a mock crime, the motivational incentives experienced by actual criminal suspects. It is therefore not surprising that the student observers were unable to distinguish truthful from deceptive suspects during the mock interrogation. On the other hand, studies that utilize field interviews of actual suspects consistently report high accuracy rates for detecting deception, e.g., Horvath, F. (1973) "Verbal and nonverbal clues to truthfulness and deception during polygraph examinations" Journal of Police Science and Administration, 1, 138-152; Horvath, F. & Jayne, B. (1990) A pilot study of the verbal and nonverbal behaviors of criminal suspects during structured interviews" Dept. of Defense Grant # 89-R-2323.; Horvath, F., Jayne, B. & Buckley, J. (1994) "Differentiation of truthful and deceptive criminal suspects in behavior analysis interviews" Forensic Journal of Science Vol.39 No.3 May 793-806.

Furthermore, all of the previously mentioned field studies involved evaluating a suspect's behavior during a highly structured and non-accusatory interview. The behavior symptoms discussed on the training tape used in the present study described behaviors that occur during a non-accusatory interview. Given the accusatory nature of Kassin's interview, coupled with the absence of any behavior-provoking questions, it is not surprising that the students failed to observe the types of behavioral differences between truthful and deceptive subjects presented on the training tape.

Leo, R., & Ofshe, R., "The Consequences of False Confessions: Deprivations of Liberty and Miscarriages of Justice in the Age of Psychological Interrogation," 88 Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology 429 (1998).


The authors reported on anecdotal accounts of 60 possible false confessions that occurred over the preceding 24-year time period. Based on the author's subjective assessments, the confessions were categorized as 34 which were proven to be false, 18 presumed to be false and 8 that were considered highly probable false confessions. Two conclusions were drawn from this data. The first was that police-induced false confessions regularly occur. Secondly, that these confessions were caused by "illegitimate use of psychological methods of interrogation".

Response: Because of the selective nature of anecdotal accounts, they have virtually no statistical value for research. The fact that 60 possible false confessions were identified over a 24-year time period sheds no light on the actual incidence of actual false confessions. From this data there is no way to even estimate if the rate of false confessions is one in 100, one in a thousand or one in ten thousand. To claim that the reported cases support the belief that police-induced false confessions regularly occur is irresponsible.

As for illegitimate use of psychological interrogation methods, many of these interrogations involved out-right duress or coercion. Several lasted 20 to 30 hours while others involved clear threats such as telling one subject she would die in the electric chair unless she confessed; in another case the suspect was threatened that if he did not confess his girlfriend would be thrown in jail. Yet other interrogations involved physically abusing the suspect until he confessed. These do not represent psychological methods of interrogation. They represent improper interrogation tactics that have been illegal for much of the twentieth century.

Finally, the accuracy of these reports must be brought in question. Of the 60 cases reported on, Reid and Associates was involved in one of them. We were unsuccessful in obtaining a confession from the suspect but the police later did. Follow-up with the police agency, including obtaining copies of two written confessions yielded significant discrepancies between what really happened and Ofshe & Leo's description of the events.

Professor Paul Cassell challenged Leo and Ofshe's findings in an article titled "The Guilty and the Innocent: An Examination of Alleged Cases of Wrongful Conviction from False Confessions." * Relying on first hand court documents, Cassell presents convincing evidence that at least nine of the 29 defendant's confessions were accurate to the extent that the suspect was telling the truth about committing the crime.

{* Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy 523, 1999. Also see and click on "Download Drafts/Papers" button on r.h. side - it is the first item under "Published Articles"}

Leo, R., "Inside the Interrogation Room" Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 86, No. 2, 1996, 266-303.


Leo reviewed 182 interrogations conducted by three police departments. He then completed a structured assessment of each interrogation utilizing both objective and subjective measures. Examples of objective measures would be the length of the interrogation, biographical information about the suspect and whether or not Miranda warnings were issued. Some of the subjective assessments included specific types of interrogation techniques used, e.g., pragmatic implication, minimization/maximization He found that only 4 (2%) of the interrogations utilized what he classified as coercive techniques.


Of the published studies researching contemporary interrogation techniques, this one presents the best methodology. That is, actual interrogations were used as the source of the data. Because these were sequential interrogations over a set period of time, they may be a representative sample of at least the three departments included in the study. A weakness in the study is that the researcher alone conducted the subjective and objective analysis of the interrogations. This researcher bias could have been minimized had Leo averaged the scores of perhaps three or four outside evaluators who completed data sheets on each interrogation. Nonetheless, it is significant to note that of these 182 interrogations, Leo did not report a single false confession. His finding that 2% of the interrogations involved "coercion" must be considered in context. For example, Leo reported that if a suspect was not advised of his Miranda rights, it was reported as a coercive interrogation. He makes no distinction as to whether the interrogations were custodial or non-custodial.

Behavioral Confirmation in the Interrogation Room: On the Dangers of Presuming Guilt
Kassin, S., Goldstein, C., & Savitsky, K.
Law and Human Behavior, Vol. 27, No 2 April, 2003 187-203


In the first phase of this study, 52 psychology students were asked to play the role of either an "innocent" or "guilty" theft suspect. Fifty-two other psychology students were asked to be investigators. Some of the investigators were told that 80% of the suspects were guilty of the theft (guilty condition). The others were told that only 20% of the suspects were guilty of the theft (innocent condition). Each investigator was instructed to interview and interrogate a suspect and render an opinion of that person's guilt or innocence. The suspects were all instructed not to confess.

To prepare for the interviews/interrogations, the student investigators were given a list of 12 questions from which they selected 6 to ask during the actual interview. The possible questions were rated as either guilt-presumptive, e.g., "How did you find the key that was hidden behind the VCR?" or neutral, e.g., "Do you know anything about the key that was hidden behind the VCR?" In addition, the investigators were provided with a list of 13 interrogation tactics and instructed to select 6 to use during the interrogation. The techniques were rated on a scale reflecting coercion. The lowest coercive tactic was appealing to the suspect's conscience whereas the most coercive tactic was telling the suspect that there was independent evidence of his guilt.

In the second phase of the study, 78 psychology students listened to the audio taped interviews and interrogations conducted in phase I of this study. In one condition the students only heard the suspect. In a second, only the investigator could be heard and in the third, both investigator and suspect could be heard.


Investigators in the guilty condition chose more guilt-presumptive questions than investigators in the innocent condition. There was no significant difference in the interrogation tactics selected between the guilty or innocent condition investigators. However, independent analysis of the interrogations indicated that investigators used a greater number of tactics when interrogating innocent than guilty suspects. Overall, only 30% (16) of the interrogators judged their suspect to be guilty of the theft. In a post-interrogation survey, investigators reported how hard they tried to get suspects to confess. There was no significant effect on the guilty-innocent investigator condition. However, there was a significant effect on the suspect's actual guilt. Investigators tried harder to get innocent suspects to confess than suspects who were guilty.

In the second phase of the study, the neutral observer students judged, as guilty, 40% of the suspects in the guilty-investigator condition and 30% in the innocent-investigator condition. They also felt that investigators in the presumption of guilt condition tried harder to get a confession than investigators who had a presumption of innocence.


The researchers state that, "Modern American police interrogations are theory-driven social influence events, founded upon a presumption of guilt, that sometimes draw false confessions from innocent people." They go on to say that, "Interrogators with guilty expectations chose more guilt-presumptive questions, used more techniques in their interrogation, and were more likely to see suspects in incriminating terms." They summarize these findings by stating, "Results indicate that a presumption of guilt sets in motion a process of behavioral confirmation by which expectations influence the interrogator's behavior, the suspect's behavior, and ultimately the judgments of neutral observers."


This study has two primary findings:

  1. Expectations bias perceptions. This is such an obvious relationship that it need not be demonstrated through research. Consider that you had to judge whether or not 10 cars coming down a street exceeded the 25 mph speed limit. You are told that 8 of the cars will exceed the speed limit. In truth, only five cars travel at 25 mph and the remaining five go 30 mph. Under this circumstance, it is human nature to judge most cars as speeding because you are looking for the two slowest cars. Kassin set up an even more difficult case scenario for the observer because each investigator only interviewed one suspect. In the car analogy this would be similar to forcing the observer to judge the speed of a single car and decide if it was going faster than 25 mph. In real-life, investigators make intra-suspect comparisons and are able to contrast one suspect's behavior, and case facts, against those of other suspects.
  2. An investigator's attitude and questioning technique influences the behavior of the suspect. This is a very real effect and has been documented extensively in our publications. During our seminars we emphasize the importance of conducting a non-accusatory interview and discuss how the interpretation of behavior can change depending on the nature of interaction with the investigator, e.g. between interviewing and interrogation. This study reinforces the need for investigators to be aware of fundamental principles of interviewing and behavior symptom analysis.

A short-coming of almost all laboratory studies is the inability to generalize those findings to field situations. This study is no exception. For example, no competent investigator would ever ask a suspect during an interview, "How did you find the key that was hidden behind the VCR?" In the study, the investigator and suspects were in separate rooms and only communicated through audio headsets. Again, this is not typical of field interviews or interrogations. The student investigators were instructed to interrogate each suspect. In field situations an investigator would only conduct an interrogation on a suspect whose guilt was reasonably certain. This determination would be made by evaluating not only the suspect"s behavior but other factual information (opportunity, access, motive, propensity, evidence etc.) In this study there was apparently no distinction made between interviewing or interrogation as investigators were instructed to conduct "interviews" up to 10 minutes in duration and signal the end of the session with a closing remark such as, "I have no more questions." Evidently, at some point, the interview turned into an interrogation. In summary, this methodology, in no way, attempts to replicate field procedures of actual interviews and interrogations.

Response to Kassin Research

Professor Saul Kassin has recently published a research article called "Behavioral confirmation in the interrogation room: On the dangers of presuming guilt".. Law and Human Behavior, 27,187-203. Co-authored with S. M., Goldstein, C. C., & Savitsky, K. (2003) This article attempts to suggest an inherent bias an interrogator develops during the initial contact with the subject during the interview/interrogation process. As this response from Pete Blair at Michigan State University School for Criminal Justice clarifies, the research is essentially useless since the authors do not understand the distinction between an interview and an interrogation.

For an additional response to this Kassin article, click here

Summaries of Various Research Articles

Cassell, P. G. (1998). Protecting the innocent from false confessions and lost confessions and from Miranda. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 88, 497-556.

The risk to the innocent from false confessions, lost confessions, and lost convictions is considered. The dimensions of the false confession problem are quantified; the relative risk to the innocent from false confessions versus lost confessions is assessed; and the existing interrogation regime, which is largely dictated by the Supreme Court's decision in Miranda v. Arizona, is discussed. It is argued that this interrogation regime is perverse, because on one hand it does almost nothing for the innocent, who will almost invariably waive their Miranda rights; but at the same time, Miranda has harmed numerous innocents by preventing the police from obtaining confessions from actual perpetrators of crimes.

Cassell, P. G. (1999). The guilty and the "innocent": An examination of alleged cases of wrongful conviction from false confessions. Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, 22, 523-603.

Cassell reviews many of the cases reported by Leo and Ofshe (1998) as false confessions. Cassell comes to the conclusion that many of the "false confessions" reported by Leo and Ofshe may have in fact been true. Implications are discussed.

Conti, R. P. (1999) The psychology of false confessions. Journal of Credibility Assessment and Witness Psychology, 2, 14-36. A discussion of why false confessions occur and the impact of false confessions on the judicial process.

Gudjonsson, G. H. (1992). The psychology of interrogations, confessions, and testimony. New York: Wiley.
Gudjonsson discusses the general psychology of interrogations and confessions. The 2003 book is more up to date.

Gudjonsson, G. H. (2003). The psychology of interrogations and confessions: A handbook. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
From the cover: . . . a comprehensive and authoritative handbook that demonstrates the crucial relationship between research and practice. In Part I, interrogation tactics used by the police in the USA and Britain are reviewed and the reasons why suspects confess to crimes are examined. In Part II, differences between English and American legal systems are highlighted and the concepts of suggestibility, compliance, and acquiescence are discussed in detail, along with the effects of drugs and alcohol. Twenty-two leading disputed confession cases are presented and evaluated in Part III, showing how high court judges have become more sophisticated in the way that they admit and rely on expert psychological and psychiatric testimony. Part IV provides a detailed discussion of seven high profile cases from outside Britain. They demonstrate how different legal systems approach, view and evaluate disputed confession evidence and expert testimony, providing material of international significance.

Horselenberg, R., Merckelbach, H., & Josephs, S. (2003). Individual differences and false confessions: A conceptual replication of Kassin and Kiechel (1996). Psychology, Crime, & Law 9(1), 1-8.

An experiment which was similar to Kassin and Kiechel's (1996) study was conducted. The results indicate that several common psychological measures did not predict who would confess falsely.

Inbau, F. E., Reid, J. E., Buckley, J. P., & Jayne, B. C. (2001). Criminal interrogation and confessions (4th ed.). Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen. The authoritative book on the Reid Technique of Interviewing and Interrogation.

Kassin, S. M. (1997). The psychology of confession evidence. American Psychologist, 52, 221-233.
Basic questions are raised concerning police interrogations, the risk of false confessions, and the impact that such evidence has on a jury. On the basis of available research, it was concluded that the criminal justice system currently does not afford adequate protection to innocent people branded as suspects.

Kassin, S. M., & Kiechel, K. L. (1996). The social psychology of false confessions: Compliance, internalization, and confabulation. Psychological Science, 7, 125-128. An experiment is performed which suggests that the presentation of false evidence can increase the likelihood of false confessions, internalization's, and confabulation.

Kassin, S. M., & McNall, K. (1991). Police interrogations and confessions: Communicating threats and promises by pragmatic implication. Law and Human Behavior, 21, 233-251.

An experiment is performed wherein the participants read transcripts of interrogations that contained different types of interrogation tactics and then indicated how much punishment they thought the suspect would receive. Kassin and McNall claim that the results show that commonly used legal interrogation tactics have an impact upon participant's perceptions punishment that is similar to explicit threats and promises.

Kassin, S. M., & Neumann, K. (1997). On the power of confession evidence: An experimental test of the fundamental difference hypothesis. Law and Human Behavior, 21, 469-493.

An experiment explores how the presentation of a confession in court can impact juror decisions.

Kassin, S. M., & Sukel, H. (1997). Coerced confessions and the jury: An experimental test of the harmless error rule. Law and Human Behavior, 21, 27-46.

An experiment explores the impact of the admission of a confession on juror decisions.

Leo, R. A. (1992). From coercion to deception: The changing nature of police interrogation in America. Crime, Law, and Social Change, 18, 35-59. Leo discusses how modern police interrogation has moved away from coercion and toward deception to produce confessions.

Leo, R. A. (1996). Inside the interrogation room. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 86, 266-303.

Leo observes 182 interrogations and reports the results. The results suggest that coercion is rare and the police use many of the tactics taught by Reid. No false confessions are reported.

Leo, R. A. (1996). Miranda's revenge: Police interrogation as a confidence game. Law and Society Review, 30, 259-288.
Leo discusses how modern police interrogation resembles a confidence game.

Leo, R. A. (2001). False confessions: Causes, consequences, and solutions. In S. D. Westervelt & J. A. Humphrey (Eds.), Wrongly convicted: Perspectives on failed justice (pp. 36-54). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Leo discusses the social psychology of false confessions. A typology of false confessions and a model of how false confessions occur are included.

Leo, R. A., & Ofshe, R. J. (1998). The consequences of false confessions: Deprivations of liberty and miscarriages of justice in the age of psychological interrogation. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 88, 429-496.
Leo and Ofshe report on 60 cases of "false confessions." Many of these are disputed by Cassell (1999).

McCann, J. T. (1998). A conceptual framework for identifying various types of confessions. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 16(4), 441-453.

This article discusses a typology of false confessions.

Ofshe, R. J. (1992). Inadvertent hypnosis during interrogation: False confession due to dissociative state: Mis-identified multiple personality and the satanic cult hypothesis. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 40(3), 125-156.

Ofshe presents a case of false confession and discusses his theory about why it occurred.
Ofshe, R. J., & Leo, R. A. (1997). The decision to confess falsely: Rational choice and irrational action. Denver University Law Review, 74, 979-1122.

Ofshe and Leo discuss how modern interrogation tactics may induce people to confess falsely.

Ofshe, R. J., & Leo, R. A. (1997). The social psychology of interrogation: The theory and classification of true and false confessions. Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, 16, 189-251.

Ofshe and Leo discuss the social psychological forces that they believe cause false confessions. A typology of false confessions is included.

Redlich, A. D. (1999). False confessions: The influence of age, suggestibility, and maturity. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California, Davis.

Redlich performs and experiment that is similar to Kassin and Keichel's (1996) study. However, Redlich uses a different form of false evidence. The presentation of false evidence in this study did not result in a higher rate of false confessions. The results do suggest that juveniles may be more likely to falsely confess than adults. Other psychological factors are explored.

Scheck, B., Neufeld, P., & Dwyer, J. (2000). Actual innocence. New York: Doubleday. This book discusses several cases of false confessions that lead to wrongful convictions.

Wakefield, H., & Underwager, R. (1998). Coerced or non voluntary confessions. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 16(4), 423-440. Discusses how police often use coercive tactics, and that these tactics can produce false confessions. Also, discusses how psychologists should address false confessions in court.