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A Description of The Reid Technique

Nov - Dec 2018 (click here for printable version)

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The Reid Technique is oftentimes just thought of and is frequently referred to as simply an interrogation process - it is much more than that. The Reid Technique is a structured interview and interrogation process that involves three primary stages: Fact Analysis, the Investigative Interview and, when appropriate, the Interrogation.

Fact Analysis

Factual analysis consists of reviewing the case facts and evidence in an effort to identify the potential scope of suspects, the probability of the offender’s characteristics, and what their possible motive may have been.

As part of the investigator’s review and analysis of the case facts and evidence, they should identify what specific details about the crime they can use to corroborate any confession that is made in the case. There are two types of corroborating evidence – dependent, which refers to details about the case that the police know but choose to “hold back” - to conceal from the media and the suspects that they question so they can be used to assess the credibility of a subject’s confession. These details may include how the victim was killed; how and where entry was made into the building; where the accelerant was poured, etc.

The second type of corroborating evidence is referred to as independent – this refers to details of the crime that only the offender knows – details that the police do not have; such as where the murder weapon is located; how and where the subject disposed of their bloody clothes; the location of the stolen property; etc.

In the process of analyzing the case facts and evidence the investigator should develop a description of the of the crime scene; the way in which the crime appears to have been committed and the known details of its commission, i.e., implement used, place of entry or exit, any special knowledge required (such as a safe combination); and, the presence of any incriminating factors against a particular subject; etc.

Once the investigator has reviewed and analyzed the case facts and evidence, they should prepare an interview strategy, including a list of issues that should be discussed with each subject, and a list of possible questions that need to be asked of each subject, including the victim, any witnesses and any suspects.

The Investigative Interview

At the outset of the interview the investigator must be sure to comply with all legal requirements, such as the appropriate advisement of rights. It is imperative that throughout the interview, the investigator maintains an objective, neutral, fact-finding demeanor.

The investigative interview, which we refer to as the Behavior Analysis Interview, should consist of three types of questions: questions about the subject’s background; questions that are relevant to the specific issue that is under investigation; and, behavior provoking questions.

The background questions generally focus on biographical information about the subject, which may include questions about the subject’s employment activities or if the subject is a student, their school activities; and, they may include some casual conversation about recent events (a news item, a sports event, a weather situation, etc.).

The purpose of spending several minutes on these topics is to establish rapport with the subject and to acclimate the subject to the interview environment and, most importantly, to establish a behavioral baseline – the subject’s normal behaviors (posture, eye contact, use of illustrators, etc.).

The investigative questions will deal with the issue that is under investigation. One of the first things the investigator should do is ask the subject an open-ended question that invites the subject to tell their story. If it is a victim, what happened? If it is a witness, what did they see or hear? If it is a suspect, what were their activities on the day in question? After the subject relates their initial story or version of events the investigator will then ask a series of questions to develop additional details and to clarify the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the incident under investigation.

During this segment of the interview the investigator would explore for any precipitators that may have provoked the incident, or for any procedural or policy violations that may have contributed to the situation. The investigator should attempt to resolve any inconsistencies or contradictions that may have surfaced from the interviews of other subjects or from the investigative information. If the subject offers an alibi for the time period in question, every effort should be made to substantiate the alibi.

In our book, Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, 5th edition 2013, we devote several chapters to the topic of Investigative Questions.

The third type of question that we utilize in the interview is called a behavior-provoking question (BPQ). BPQs are questions which most truthful individuals answer one way, while deceptive individuals oftentimes answer in a completely different manner. The investigator will present these questions as casual inquiries.

Here is an example of a behavior-provoking question, which is referred to as the punishment question - "Jim, what do you think should happen to the person who did this (issue)?" The principle of response is that most truthful subjects usually offer appropriately strong punishment. For example, in a homicide investigation the truthful person may say, “He should spend the rest of his life in jail.” Whereas, the deceptive individual, who is thinking about himself, may say something like “That’s hard to say… I guess it depends on the circumstances.”

In Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, we discuss numerous behavior provoking questions that can be asked during the interview.

At the conclusion of this non-accusatory interview the investigator will evaluate the investigative and behavioral information developed during the interview, as well as the information, facts and evidence developed during the investigation up to this point, and then make one of several possible decisions: the investigator may eliminate the subject from further investigation; the investigator may determine that the investigation of the subject should continue; or the investigator may decide to initiate the interrogation of the subject. Everyone in an investigation may be interviewed, but very few are interrogated.

The Reid Nine Steps of Interrogation

The interrogation process in The Reid Technique is known as the Nine Steps of Interrogation. These steps are:

The initial confrontation

Theme development

Handling denials

Overcoming objections

Procurement of the subject’s attention

Handling the subject’s passive mood

Presenting an alternative question

Developing the details of the admission

Converting the verbal confession to a written or recorded document

The purpose of the interrogation is to learn the truth. There are several possible outcomes to a successful interrogation: the subject may be identified as innocent; it may be determined that the subject did not commit the offense under investigation but lied about some aspect of the investigation (motive, alibi, access, relationship with the victim, etc.); the investigator may determine that the subject did not commit the offense under investigation but knows who did; or, the subject may be identified as guilty.

The core of the interrogation process in the Reid Technique is to use empathy, sound reasoning and logic to elicit the truth – this is called theme development. It is important during the development of the theme that the investigator avoid any indication that the minimization of the moral or psychological blame will relieve the suspect of criminal responsibility. (One of our Investigator Tip provides a more detailed discussion of theme development: The fundamental foundation of the Reid Technique of Interrogation: Empathy and Understanding

It is critical that during the interrogation that the investigator does not offer any direct or implied promises of leniency to the subject or threaten the subject in any way or suggest that they will face more severe consequences if they do not confess.

Oftentimes, the initial admission is developed by asking the subject an alternative question, such as, “Was this your idea or did your buddies talk you into it?” Another example would be, “Did you plan this out or did it just happen on the spur of the moment?”

Once the subject decides to tell the truth and acknowledge their involvement in committing the crime, the goal is to develop the details of the crime – to develop the corroboration that we referenced earlier in this Tip. At this point in the interrogation, active persuasion should stop and the investigator should ask questions that allow the subject to provide the details of the crime.

To supplement the above discussion we have previously published an Investigator Tip outlining the Best Practices that the investigator should follow in conducting interviews and interrogations.

Core Principals of The Reid Technique

There are a number of basic principles that we teach that the investigator should follow when they reach the stage of conducting an interrogation: 

  • Do not make any promises of leniency 
  • Do not threaten the subject with any physical harm or inevitable consequences 
  • Do not conduct interrogations for an excessively lengthy period of time 
  • Do not deny the subject any of their rights
  • Do not deny the subject the opportunity to satisfy their physical needs
  • Be sure to withhold information about the details of the crime from the subject so that if the subject confesses he can reveal information that only the guilty would know
  • Exercise special cautions when questioning juveniles or individuals with mental or psychological impairments 
  • The confession is not the end of the investigation - investigate the confession details in an effort to establish the authenticity of the subject's statement
  • Always act in compliance with the guidelines established by the courts

False Confessions

False confessions are not caused by the application of the Reid Technique, they are usually caused by interrogators engaging in improper interrogation procedures – engaging in behavior that the courts have ruled to be objectionable, such as threatening inevitable consequences; making a promise of leniency in return for the confession; denying a subject their rights; conducting an excessively long interrogation; etc.

As one US Federal Judge stated, after hearing testimony from a false confession expert who made a variety of claims that The Reid Technique resulted in false confessions: 

“In sum, the proffered expert testimony to the effect that the Reid technique enhanced the risk of an unreliable confession lacked any objective basis for support whatever.” US v. Jacques, May 2011, the US District Court of Massachusetts 

In July 2014, at the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys conference

a presentation entitled, “ Theories and Advocacy Strategies in False Confession

Cases” was made by Attorney Steve Drizin, Center on Wrongful Convictions, Chicago, IL and Attorney Laura Nirider, Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, Chicago, IL. In their presentation they indicated that Reid is the gold standard on proper procedures, and that they regularly review reid.com and our materials to establish best practices and to point out what other investigators did that was improper. They specifically reference our cautions re the questioning of juveniles.

For additional details on The Reid Technique visit our website at www.reid.com.





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