Blog

EXAMINING POLICE INTERROGATION TECHNIQUES: defining “interrogation”

  • Interrogate : to ask (someone) questions in a thorough and often forceful way. (Merriam-Webster dictionary)

This blog series is designed to expose and explain the coercive nature of the police interrogation known as the Reid Technique as described in Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, by Fred E. Inbau and John E. Reid. This technique has become the foundation for police interrogation education and training. In the Netflix series “The Making of a Murderer,” this method is exemplified by the interrogation of Brendan Dassey.

As a criminal defense attorney and the product of years of network television dramas, I always knew that speaking to the police without counsel was fraught with danger yet a huge percentage of my clients spoke to the police when invited to do so. Why? Because they confused an “interview” with an “interrogation” and erroneously believed that the police were interested in what they had to say. Additionally, people speak to the police because they believe their situation will improve if they do so. They believe that the police will accept their information and either release them or stop investigating them.  The suspect believes he is being “interviewed” when in fact; he is being accused and “interrogated.” What is this fundamental difference?

An interview is a non-accusatory, unstructured fact-finding conversation typically conducted in the beginning of an investigation and can occur anywhere. The questioner is trying to collect investigative and behavioral information in order to form an opinion as to who their suspect is and how the crime occurred. Investigative information is obtained by asking questions which will permit the interviewee to give detailed answers and even volunteer information. The investigator will take notes and ask follow-up questions. In the case of Brendan Dassey, a question like “What do you know about what happened to Teresa Halbach?” is an interview question; it invites a conversation.

Contrast this type of question with “Brendan, there is absolutely no doubt that you were involved in Teresa Halbach’s murder.” Here, the Reid method brands the suspect as “deceptive” and the police forcefully advise the suspect that the investigator is absolutely certain of his guilt and possesses evidence in support of this opinion. This may be true or not. The accusatory statement must show a strong level of confidence and serves to forestall any attempt by the suspect to deny knowledge or involvement in the crime.

Perhaps most illuminating is the language of Mr. Reid regarding the taking of notes:

“The investigator should not take any notes until after the suspect has told the truth and is fully committed to that position. Premature note-taking during an interrogation serves as a reminder to the suspect of the incriminating nature of his statements and can therefore inhibit further admissions against self-interest. Only after the suspect has fully confessed, and perhaps after the confession has been witnessed by another investigator, should written notes be made documenting the details of the confession.”

Finally, the interrogation must be conducted in a controlled environment. The room must be private, free of external distraction with a door that can be closed. The room details are specific. The room should be 10’x10’ space and the distance between the chairs should be 4’-5’ away from each other. There should be no barriers between the suspect and the investigator. A desk or table offers a psychological shield behind which a deceptive suspect will hide. (Creating A Temporary Interview Room, PoliceLink.)

When given the opportunity to be silent, take it. You have no obligation to EVER speak to the police and you should never do so without an attorney present. It isn’t a fair fight and in an interrogation, law enforcement’s goal is to extract an admission or confession not to listen to an explanation. The next installment of this series discusses the psychological underpinnings of the Reid method and the type of coercion employed.