Criticisms of the Reid Technique (Direct examination of Richard Ofshe

Oregon v. Pickens, Feb. 1997

Q: Do you have any criticisms of the Reid method of interrogation?
A: The Reid method is widely criticized. There are areas of criticism that others make that I don't necessarily share, although I am aware that the criticism is there.

Q: What is the general criticism of the scientific community of the Reid method?
A: There are some people who criticize it because it is deceptive, they rely on deception. I don't share that criticism. I regard the use of amassing of presentation of the evidence as essential to getting a person to decide to confess, and I don't have any particular problem with overstating the evidence.
Q: "What other criticism is their of the Reid method in the scientific community?
A: It has to do with the fact that Reid teaches or tries to teach interrogators that they can read the demeanor of suspects and make reliable inferences from demeanor as to guilt or innocence. No one has come up with a way of reliably inferring whether someone is lying or telling the truth from a real time look at their demeanor. It is just fanciful."

Response: There have been a number of studies that demonstrate high accuracies in identifying truth or deception based on evaluation of verbal and nonverbal behavior. Some of these studies include, 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. Eckman, P. (1999) "A Few can Catch a Liar" J. of Psychological Sciences, May 1999.

Q: Is the fact that Reid teaches police interrogators that they can read demeanor, is that your greatest criticism?
A: The major criticism of the Reid method is the accident scenario technique. It is called the accident scenario maximization minimization and this is a technique that Reid teaches and deliberately misleads police officers as to the acceptability of this technique.

Ofshe then goes on to quote extensively from our book Criminal Interrogation and Confessions on page 103, referring to a robbery-homicide case. In essence, Ofshe testifies that:

"Reid suggests that the investigator develop the theme that the suspect's primary goal was to get some money and that the shooting was the result of his belief that the victim was drawing a gun and that he acted in self-defense. Now they (Reid) describes this as formatting a less heinous, less morally unacceptable version of the crime. What they, in fact, are doing is changing the description of the crime facts that would lead to the crime being classified not as a premeditated murder, but in this case, as an act of self-defense. They are communicating that while this looks like a premeditated murder, they are willing to believe, to accept a version that makes the crime less serious, and therefore, charge less, so its an offer of leniency. Now this is a point that has been noticed by many people in the research community, and, in fact, has been the subject of particular research that demonstrates that a normal individual confronted with these sorts of alternatives will correctly understand that what they're being offered is a more or less serious charge, and the mechanism for communicating that is called pragmatic implication. So this is the central problem with the Reid method in that what makes it effective is that it offers harsh punishment for silence and a benefit for confessing."

RESPONSE: The research Ofshe refers to is a single laboratory study where college students were asked to read various interrogation scenarios and speculate as to how long the defendant would be sentenced. This research did not, in any way, address whether or not implied promises of leniency may result in a false confession. The author himself cautioned about generalizing these findings to field situations, stating that the college student's perceptions may not be the same as that of other individuals. It is our position, and has been our experience, that a person innocent of killing another is not led to offer a false confession as a result of the interrogator simply suggesting the possibility that the killing occurred accidentally. One issue that must be kept in mind is that guilty suspects, because they are guilty and face possible serious consequences, want strongly to believe that they deserve some special consideration for their crime. The suggestion that a mentally healthy innocent suspect would accept responsibility for a crime he did not commit assuming, of course, that no illegal tactics have been utilized by the interrogator, is simply not logical.

Q: In the psychological appendix of the Reid textbook, do they draw a distinction in that area about a real promise versus giving them a false promise?
A: Yes. The psychological appendix to the book which is an attempt on their part to explain the social psychology of why their methods work, they use the concept of belief. They say, "The concept of belief is the vehicle of persuasion. Beliefs are not fact and, therefore, are subject to interpretation and exterior influences. The catalyst of belief is important in another way, too. During a legal interrogation reality cannot be changed. A confession would be inadmissible as evidence if the interrogator takes away the consequences to the confession, (promises) or physically adds anxiety (threats abuse) during the interrogation. However the interrogator can legally change the suspect's perception of the consequences of confessing or the suspect's perception of the anxiety associated with deception through influencing the suspect's beliefs."

What they are saying is, it's okay to make somebody believe you're offering a deal, as long as you're not intending to go ahead with the deal. Somehow they draw this very bizarre distinction since all that is of any concern in explaining the decision-making of an individual, is what that individual either perceives or is led to perceive about the choices before them, so there is a deliberate attempt here to leave them to perceive a way out that has little or no punishment by complying, and then turn around and attack them for having agreed to what the interrogator has suggested.

Q: Why do you disagree with that?
A: Because fundamentally it is motivating the initial decision to make the admission through threat and promise, threat and promise.

Response: Ofshe's analysis of this paragraph represents a gross mischaracterization of the technique when he states that it is designed to motivate the initial decision to make the admission through threats and promises. If he were asked to read the last full paragraph on the previous page (p.332) the court would learn that, "References to influencing anxiety during an interrogation do not mean, or imply, the use of any threats, coercion, or abuse to the suspect. Anxiety, as used in this discussion, refers only to the suspect's internal feelings of uneasiness as a result of his own cognitive dissonance. Similarly, in reference to decreasing the suspect's perception of the consequences, no promises should be made of leniency."

Model of Interrogation (Direct Testimony of Richard Ofshe)
People v. Sanchez, April 19, 1999

During direct examination, Richard Ofshe presents his own model of interrogation. He uses a graph where the vertical axis represents the suspect's confidence in being able to "survive the interrogation without being arrested". The horizontal axis represents time, or the duration of the interrogation. Ofshe describes, as the goal of the interrogation, to decrease the suspect's confidence to survive the interrogation. At some point, he argues, the suspect's confidence drops to a level where he makes the first admission of guilt, e.g., "I did it." This period of time he refers to as the pre-admission phase. The post-admission phase, on the other hand, involves developing the details of the confession.

During the pre-admission phase Ofshe states that the interrogator uses a number of "evidence ploys" to convince the suspect that he committed the crime. Ofshe's examples all include reference to fictitious evidence. The purpose in presenting such evidence, Ofshe argues, is to make the suspect feel "hopeless." He testifies that both the guilty and innocent suspect will feel hopeless once the interrogator brings up evidence linking them to the crime.

The next strategy employed during the pre-admission phase, according to Ofshe's model, is to motivate the suspect to make the first admission of guilt. Ofshe testifies that there are different levels of motivation. The first is called a low-end motivator and consists of such statements as, "You'll feel better if you just admit you did it" or, "You're not a bad person; you've got to admit you did it and take your punishment." Ofshe testifies that such statements appealing to the suspect's concept of right and wrong would be highly unlikely to get any person, guilty or innocent, to confess. Therefore, an interrogator uses "systematic appeals" designed to get the suspect to believe that he will be better off if he confesses. Ofshe testifies that as long as the interrogator does not specifically promise the suspect leniency, that these systematic appeals are unlikely to cause a false confession. However, if these statements do not produce a confession, Ofshe states that the interrogator then uses high-end coercive motivators where the suspect is specifically threatened with either a sever punishment or a promised leniency. It is under this circumstance, he argues, that an innocent person may make a false admission of guilt.

Response: We agree that an interrogation represents a pre-admission and post-admission phase. However, the concept that the interrogator's goal is to decrease a suspect's confidence in avoiding an arrest by interrogating the suspect over an extended period of time is simply wrong. While it is true that some interrogations do last several hours, the Reid Technique does not advocate prolonging an interrogation for the sole purpose of wearing down a suspect's resistance to confess. In this regard, we find it very misleading to use time as one of the axis within the interrogation formula.

Ofshe's model clearly implies that all suspects decide to confess as a means to avoid tangible consequences such as being arrested, or suffering a long prison sentence. The high-end motivators Ofshe describes are techniques clearly denounced by the Reid Technique and the courts.(1) However, Ofshe himself testified that if high-end coercive motivators are not used that it is unlikely that an innocent person would make an admission of guilt, not to mention the much more specific information required to constitute a full confession. Based on our experiences and post-confession interviews with suspects, we have found that there can be several motivations for a guilty suspect to confess. Examples include the suspect feeling better about himself (relieving internal anxiety) the suspect saving face with loved ones and, certainly in some instances, the suspect believing that he deserves special consideration because of extraneous circumstances surrounding his crime.

Analysis of the "Post-narrative Statement" Direct Testimony of Richard Ofshe
People v. Sanchez, April 19, 1999

Ofshe relies extensively on the defendant's narrative confession when testifying that it is false. He makes a distinction between objective facts (factual information derived from the crime scene) and subjective statements the suspect offers that can never be verified (how he felt about committing the crime). Ofshe testifies, "We have to distinguish between things that can be evaluated by comparing them to the objective facts of the crime and things that just can never be evaluated and, therefore, don't help us in figuring out whether this is a true or false statement, and that's the fit between the post-admission narrative and the objective facts of the crime."

In the present case, while physical evidence implicated the defendant, the crime scene also had a bloody footprint that did not match the defendant's as well as unidentified fingerprints. This suggested to Ofshe that two people committed the crime yet the defendant confessed that he alone committed it. The testimony continues:

Q: Well, if you knew that there's possible evidence in this case that's been presented to the jury that included an unknown shoe print leading from the master bedroom out through the front door that didn't belong to the defendant, and he had no knowledge of how that shoe print got there, how would that fit into your model?
A: Well, that would be physical evidence failing to link him to the crime and suggesting that perhaps someone else is the perpetrator.

Q: Well, if he (the defendant) told an officer that he was alone and the evidence suggested that there was more than one person there, how would that fit into your model?
A: That would be a bad fit with the physical evidence. That would indicate that there's some part of his statement that doesn't comport with the physical evidence.

Q: So it wouldn't corroborate an, "I did it," would it?
A: No. That would be consistent with a lack of knowledge because there's physical evidence that suggests the opposite of what's said.

Q: When you reviewed the tape did you see instances where the defendant asked the police officer if he was going to continue to investigate?
A: Yes.

Q: How does that fit into your model, if at all?
A: It would be consistent with someone giving a false confession who is hoping that subsequent investigation will prove their innocence.

Response: It is a common misconception that when a suspect "breaks down and confesses" that he tells the complete and whole truth about his crime. This, in fact, is the exception rather than the rule. Most guilty suspects will withhold information about their crime or lie about peripheral issues relating to it. The motive for some of these distortions may be quite apparent such as protecting an accomplice or describing the crime in a more favorable light by lying about some behaviors. "It is 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 experience with respect to the main event. For instance, a sex-motivated murderer may make a complete and truthful disclosure of the killing, but at the same time, he may lie about the nature of his actual sexual act. A burglar-murderer may freely reveal all the details of killing but, as earlier illustrated, may lie about taking a gold crucifix from the victim's home." Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, 3rd ed. P. 106.

It is interesting to note that early in his testimony Ofshe indicated the importance of using only objective facts as the criteria to determine whether a confession is false. However, when later asked to speculate on the significance of the suspect asking if the investigation would continue, Ofshe concluded that the statement would be consistent with someone giving a false confession.

For legal prohibitions against the use of threats and promises during an interrogation, see Inbau, Reid & Buckley Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, 3rd ed pp. 308-317. In addition, the following specific statements are made in that text: "During the presentation of any theme based upon the morality factor, caution must be taken to avoid any indication that the minimization of moral blame will relieve the suspect of criminal responsibility p. 93; "Interrogators should not make a promise of immunity from prosecution or a diminution of punishment as an inducement for a confession." p. 99; "Any behavior or statement that threatens the suspect's well-being or his perception of it is not advocated legally or psychologically for interrogation purposes" p. 345. From Jayne & Buckley 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' "In presenting and contrasting the alternative question, the investigator must not offer threats or promises." p. 463.