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A Quick Guide to Best Practices for the Reid Nine Steps of Interrogation
July - August 2013 (click here for printable version)
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Within any established procedure (medical, therapeutic, manufacturing, education, engineering, etc.) there are optimum or ideal conditions under which the probability of success is maximized. These optimum procedures are called "best practices." Because of uncontrolled or unanticipated events, it is not always possible to apply best practices within a procedure in every instance. However, a practitioner should always strive to utilize best practices when feasible.
The successful interrogation is one in which (1) the suspect tells the truth to the investigator and, (2) persuasive tactics used to learn the truth are legally acceptable. With these goals in mind, the following are a list of best practices for applying the Reid Nine Steps of Interrogation, along with a brief discussion of each practice:
Conduct an interview before an interrogation. Absent a life-saving circumstance the investigator should conduct a non-accusatory interview before engaging in any interrogation. During the interview the investigator can establish rapport with the suspect, assess their credibility, develop investigative information and establish a behavioral baseline. Also, during the interview the suspect is more likely to reveal information that can be used to develop an interrogation strategy.
Conduct an interrogation only when there is a reasonable belief that the suspect is guilty or withholding relevant information. The belief that a suspect is guilty of a crime or is withholding relevant information may be based upon investigative information, evidence, the suspect's demeanor, or verbal responses to interview questions. The investigator should avoid conducting an accusatory interrogation as a technique to separate innocent from guilty suspects.
Consider a suspect's behavior in conjunction with case facts and evidence. The assessment of a suspect's credibility during an interview will be enhanced and likely more accurate if it is based not only on the suspect's verbal and nonverbal behavior, but also on case facts (the suspect's established opportunity, access, motive and propensity to commit the crime) as well as forensic or testimonial evidence.
Attempt to verify the suspect's alibi before conducting an interrogation. The most efficient means to prove a suspect's innocence is to verify his or her purported alibi. Conversely, when it is determined that the suspect provided a false alibi, this finding offers support for the suspicion of the suspect's probable guilt.
There should be no barrier between the investigator and suspect within the interrogation room. A desk or table separating the suspect from the investigator provides the suspect a sense of security and confidence in not having his lies detected. This is obviously undesirable. Rather, the furniture within the interrogation room should be arranged in such a way that the suspect and investigator are facing each other about 4-5 feet apart without any physical barrier between them.
A single investigator should be the lead communicator. While it is often appropriate to have a third person in the room during an interrogation, perhaps as an observer or witness, there should only be one primary investigator communicating with the suspect at a time. A guilty suspect is more likely to offer a voluntary confession to a single investigator who has established a rapport and trust with the suspect. A tactic to be avoided is to have two or three investigators simultaneously bombarding the suspect with themes or alternative questions, or working as a "tag team" wearing the suspect down over an extended period of time.
Do not threaten the suspect's well being or make threats of inevitable consequences. It is clearly improper to threaten a suspect, directly or indirectly, with physical harm or pain. This would include threats directed at the suspect's family members or loved ones in an effort to obtain a confession. Similarly, an investigator should never attempt to falsely convince a suspect that he or she is in a helpless situation and that the only way to avoid an inevitable consequence is by confessing.
Do not offer the suspect promises of leniency. An investigator should not offer the suspect a quid pro quo promise of leniency in exchange for a confession. In other words, there should be no promise that the suspect will receive a less severe punishment if the suspect confesses.
Do not make promises you cannot keep. There are many promises an investigator can make to a suspect which are proper and will not cause a confession to be suppressed. These are promises that can be kept such as including the fact that the suspect cooperated in a written report or a promise not to reveal to coworkers the suspect's confession. However, false promises jeopardize the admissibility of a confession. An example of a false promise is the investigator telling the suspect, "If you confess you can sleep in your own bed tonight," when, in fact, the suspect is taken into custody after confessing.
Do not deny the suspect his legal rights. An investigator is legally obligated to honor a suspect's rights whether it be a custodial suspect's Miranda rights, a military suspect's article 31 rights or, within the private sector, a union member's rights.
When interrogating a non-custodial suspect, do not deprive the suspect from his freedom to leave the room. The suspect's exit from the interrogation room should not be blocked by positioning the investigator's chair between the suspect's chair and the door. The room should not be locked from the inside (requiring a key to open the door) and the room should not be in an area that requires a key or pass code to exit the building. Finally, the investigator should not make verbal statements implying that the suspect is not free to leave the room, e.g., "You're not going anywhere until we get this clarified!"
Do not conduct excessively long interrogations. In most instances, if the suspect is still adamantly maintaining his innocence and has not made any incriminating statements or admissions after three to four hours of interrogation the interrogation should be re-assessed and most likely terminated.
Exercise extreme caution when interrogating juveniles, suspects with a lower intelligence or suspects with mental impairments. This class of suspect is more susceptible to false confessions and, therefore, the investigator should be cautious in utilizing active persuasion such as discouraging weak denials, overcoming objections or engaging in deceptive practices. Proper corroboration of a confession will be critical with this class of suspect.
When using interrogation tactics involving deception the investigator should not manufacture evidence against the suspect. Courts make a distinction between false verbal assertions, e.g., "We found your fingerprints in her bedroom." which are permissible and manufacturing evidence, which is not permissible. An example of manufacturing evidence is taking the suspect's fingerprints and transferring the prints to an evidence card which indicates that the prints were found in the victim's bedroom.
When a suspect claims to have little or no memory for the time period when the crime was committed the investigator should not lie to the suspect concerning incriminating evidence. While it is not uncommon for guilty suspects to feign memory loss, an overriding concern is an innocent suspect who experiences true memory loss for the time period when the crime was committed. Under this circumstance, if the investigator lies to the suspect about incriminating evidence and the suspect confesses, it may be argued that presenting false evidence caused an innocent suspect to believe that he had committed the crime.
Do not reveal to the suspect all information known about the crime. A legally admissible confession should include corroboration. One form of corroboration is information only the guilty suspect would know, e.g., the method of entry in a burglary, a memorable statement made to a victim, the denomination of money stolen, etc. When interviewing a suspect or offering information to the news media, the investigator should carefully guard this protected information so that the only person who would know it would be the investigator and the person who committed the crime.
Attempt to elicit information from the suspect about the crime that was unknown to the investigator. The best form of corroboration is information not known to the investigator about a crime that is independently verified as true. Examples of independent corroboration include the location of a knife used to kill the victim, where stolen property was fenced or the present location of a car the suspect stole.
The confession is not the end of the investigation. Following the confession the investigator should investigate the confession details in an effort to establish the authenticity of the subject's statement, as well as attempt to establish the suspect's activities before and after the commission of the crime.
In conclusion, failure to follow the best practices of the Reid Technique will not necessarily result in a false or inadmissible confession. However, if these best practices are followed there is an extremely high probability that a confession will be a true statement of guilt and that the confession will be admitted as evidence against the defendant at trial. Consequently, an investigator should always strive to follow best practices when utilizing the Reid Nine Steps of Interrogation.
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