Police Questioning – Interrogation Techniques
After a police officer makes an arrest has been made (or even if an arrest has not but made, there is a strong possibility they are working in order to try and obtain a confession from you. They have great experience in interrogation techniques. There is a difference, in contrast, between an interview and an interrogation. An interview would exist when they are interviewing a witness. Usually, they will be honest an open about their motives when doing this.
An interrogation is entirely different. There are a number of steps that different detectives and police officers may employ they have learned from their training to proceed in the best way to gain a confession or an incriminating statement. Generally, there is a series of steps usually gone through, most of the time in more or less the same order, to hopefully render the best result for the interrogation process when conducted. This very much relates to the common myth in how prevalent it is for police to lie to someone and their reason and propensity for doing so.
Law enforcement officers, especially those who are tasked with conducting interrogations and confessions, usually have extensive training in their field. They usually have great experience in interrogation techniques and are trained in the art of being able to gain admissions based on how people act, behave, etc. If this is their primary job as a police officer, chances are they are very good at it. They can be very tricky and can be very suave in order to obtain an admission from a person they will incriminate them later. Detectives almost always have extensive training and experience with interrogation techniques, and usually, have a tremendous amount of ability in this area, and are very good at applying their craft.
Often, techniques are employed wherein very subtle ways a person may have no idea how badly they are damaging their case by the statements they are making in what they usually just think is a regular conversation. Just like how good criminal defense attorneys should have great ability and a high aptitude to work in the courtroom to achieve favorable outcomes, which is based on the accumulation acquired over time and is rooted in all of the experience, training, and knowledge obtained over time by being completely focused on honing their skillset and craft of being an effective trial attorney (for me personally now for over a decade). Similarly, a detective’s training, experience, and skillset have likewise been focused and directed on trying to be good at their job, which is geared directly towards being able to gain admissions, statements, and confessions from people suspected of a criminal offense. If it’s a patrol officer whose job is a bit different, their training is probably more centered on traffic stops and being able to successfully investigate people under suspicion for Driving While Intoxicated in the best way possible to help aid being able to get a conviction should the case proceed to trial in court. That is their job and they take it very seriously.
People often ask if they have the right to remain silent still after an arrest, regardless of the tactics law enforcement may try to employ. The answer is always a resounding YES. If you are ever placed under arrest for any criminal charge, the officer should read you your Miranda rights at some point. However, it is a common misconception that they are required to read a person their Miranda rights, which is not true. Usually, they do, in most cases before a person is booked into jail read them the basic Miranda rights, but there is no set time period or a specific juncture for when they are supposed to do so. It’s a mistaken belief that right after arrest an officer must immediately read a person their Miranda rights, and in the event they do not – many people erroneously believe this somehow could lead to a positive result, like a dismissal or the charges being dropped.
In Texas, there is not a requirement at all, actually for when and if the police ever are supposed to read you the Miranda rights. If you’re placed under arrest, you should not say anything at all, and in almost every case (whether Miranda is read or not) they will almost surely try to question you about the incident in some form or fashion, in the hope they may be able to gain some form of an admission when answering questions posed to you in the hope that perhaps they may be able to get you to admit to something, even if it is slight and seems benign and not important. Regardless, whether they read you your Miranda rights or not, what you should ALWAYS do is immediately invoke your right to remain silent and clearly and with complete certainty how you wish to not be subjected to any question until you are afforded your constitutional right to have legal counsel present to advise you on how best to proceed. If one does invoke these two basic and fundamental rights, all questioning must cease and in the event that it does not, everything that is said should be ruled inadmissible later in court.
If you are under arrest, there is a chance that before they start the formal booking processing, they make try one last-ditch effort to see if they can coerce some form of admission or statement that may help them prove the case. The bottom line is to NOT SAY ANYTHING, regardless of what they say to you to try to coerce you. It is possible that in some situations a police officer can lie to a suspect to try and gain the admission they are seeking. To avoid this happening – SHUT YOUR MOUTH.
Often, detectives will try to make it seem like an arrest is just detention or a consensual encounter by leaving the doors open to the room when they question someone, or they make sure that there are no officers in the uniform present so the environment makes seem more casual to put you at ease. It is also possible that you may actually not be under “custodial” arrest for legal purposes, even if you think you are – which precludes them from having to formally read the Miranda rights. If this happens, anything you say in this setting COULD and most likely will be used against you. If you are unsure whether you are under arrest or not, ask. If you have been told that you are in fact under arrest for a criminal charge, this automatically means that you are not free to leave, and so again – immediately invoke your right to remain silent and firmly and clearly request to be advised by an attorney. If they say that you’re not actually under arrest and you are free to leave, then do just that – LEAVE.
Often people are overwhelmed and very docile during interrogations and do not know what to expect. Later, often I get asked if there is anything is not permissible, or off-limits, when being questioned or interrogated by the police about an alleged criminal incident. Generally speaking, there is nothing that is, per se, legally off-limits or out of bounds when it comes to police interrogations and questions, even if it is clear their intention is to try and gain some form of a confession. They are allowed to make statements to an individual that are outright, blatant, and complete lies, and often frequently do this because it can help them gain the statements they are seeking. For example, imagine a scenario where there are two young boys suspected of some type of criminal offense. However, at this point, they are just mere suspects, and they do not have enough evidence yet to formally charge either of them with a crime.
Hypothetically, assume also both boys are from a lower socioeconomic neighborhood and background, and their entire life they have experienced, seen or heard of relatives or friends who have been socially profiled by the police or have been otherwise taken advantage of. Perhaps they know people who have spent significant time in prison after being arrested and convicted of a crime. If a police officer is questioning them separately about an incident involving a robbery at a convenience store, for instance, and they believe they are both the two main and prime suspects. What if a police officer during the interrogation of one the boys claims to the other how his friend, who is in the next room, has already given a complete and full confession to the robbery charge, and he also has implicated him saying they both committed the crime together. They then proceed to make up false statements, untruths, and lies by telling him how they already have obtained and found numerous fingerprints and other DNA evidence of his all over the crime scene, etc.
They proceed to tell the young boy how his friend already spilled the beans in full and complete fashion, and because of this, they are going to go easy on him and because of his cooperation, they agreed to persuade the judge or the DA to give him the maximum amount of leniency possible, which will undoubtedly lead to his friend being able to get a great deal. They may even communicate how he is in the other room drinking coke and as happy as he can be and is ready to go home and they are about to release from jail that day so he can go home. The police press the boy and pressure him by claiming that his friend in the next room has already confessed, he will get a sweet deal to reward his cooperation – so why wouldn’t you do the same?
They then try and coerce the kid by pressuring him in various ways, peppering him with horrible scenarios for how he is just making things worse for himself by not talking and saying the same thing his friend did. The young boy has no idea the officers can tell lies like this to try and coerce a confession, and also because he was always taught to respect law enforcement and so believes the officers are telling the truth. Also, assume in this scenario, hypothetically, this boy literally had absolutely nothing to do with the robbery, and even knows 100% in his mind that there is no way they could have his fingerprints at the scene – because he was never there! But thoughts go through his mind with racing questions like they must be telling the truth about what they found and about my friend and the deal he is getting by giving full cooperation. It is very likely a number of things would rush through his mind, and he may remember some relative or friend who received a long prison sentence for some criminal offense and so he gets increasingly more nervous, scared, and anxious. The pressure the interrogating officers exert no doubt mounts up to a boiling tension, and at some point there is a high probability that he will finally crack and make the decision to just tell them whatever they want to hear, because he would much rather be in the position they said his friend was about to be in and about to go home. Perhaps he concludes that he would rather get a sentence of probation (even for a crime he did not commit) or a minimum amount of time in jail, rather than having to serve a long prison sentence for a crime he had nothing to do with. He then feels it’s in this best interest just to lie about his involvement and decides just to tell them whatever they want to hear, perhaps even implicating his friend in doing so believing this is the best overall option for him. He then makes a confession for a crime he did not commit, he has no real knowledge of, and even have absolutely nothing to do with, all because of how good the interrogators are in gaining a confession, albeit through telling outright lies to him, but it did the job of exerting enough pressure needed to scare him into submission.
At the very least, this leads to a confession that is laced with uncertainty and would be inherently unreliable. Yet, it is a common technique used by law enforcement and routinely happens throughout the entire nation. This method is commonly referred to as the “Reid Technique”, which is a way that detectives are taught to interrogate a suspect and is condoned on a national level. Supporters argue that the Reid technique is useful in extracting information from otherwise unwilling suspects, while critics strongly disagree with the technique by pointing out how easy and often it is to elicit false confessions from innocent people, especially in children or younger individuals scared of authority. The Reid technique is an interrogation method that is entirely an accusatory process, where the investigator informs the suspected individual that the results of the investigation clearly indicate that they did commit the crime in question (even if this is a lie and there is nothing that points that this may even be close to being true).
People also wonder what happens when and if a police officer promises to go “easy” on an individual if they just confess to whatever allegations are being investigated. Simply put, offering to go easy on you, if you confess, is probably the most used technique by police officers to try to get what they want. It is simply untrue. They don’t have the power required. If a detective or a police officer makes an arrest, they form a police report and they send it to the prosecuting DA’s office. The assigned prosecutor has the power to do any number of things. At that point, you should have an attorney to go into court with you to work it out. The police officer, however, has no negotiating power and is basically out of the picture.
Interrogation – Techniques And Methods
An interrogation is a very methodical and precise approach police officers use when they believe someone is guilty and they want to obtain a confession. There are a number of steps that different detectives and police officers may employ they have learned from their training to proceed in the best way to gain a confession or an incriminating statement. Generally, there is a series of steps usually gone through, most of the time in more or less the same order, to hopefully render the best result for the interrogation process when conducted. This very much relates to the common myth in how prevalent it is for police to lie to someone and their reason and propensity for doing so by utilizing in order in some fashion the following procedures:
1) PRETEXT PHONE CALLS
This may be a situation where a police officer may get a witness or a victim to call, while it is recorded, to say “if you just apologize and admit what you did, I won’t press charges. I know you didn’t mean to hurt anyone, etc.” This is all used as a ruse to be used as a confession later in court.
Once brought to the station, they will isolate an individual in a room as a power play. They will make them feel powerless over the situation. Usually, no clock will be in the room, no windows, and it will be held in a very small and confined space. Usually, they will seat the suspect in a position where they have limited movement, whereas the officer can freely move around the room, implicitly showing his power over the situation. All a power play.
3) RAPPORT BUILDING
In this stage, they are trying to build rapport with the suspect, which is usually done for a variety of reasons. This is done primarily to lull a suspect into lowering their guard. They likely will be friendly, polite, and seemingly act as if they are trying to assist. Most generally, they will ask them questions to make them comfortable like “Did you grow up here? Do you like the Cowboys too? Do you want any food or something to drink”? They also may note similarities between themselves, such as “we both grew up here, or we both like this baseball team.” They want the person to feel comfortable and at ease. This is done to establish rapport to establish a connection for an open line of communication later but also is done because they want to establish a baseline to try and see what the person acts like when at ease, comfortable, and when telling the truth. They will then compare and to contrast this behavior with the reaction a person may have when they later ask questions that are directly related to whatever situation they are investigating. They want to be able to compare the differences between how the person acts, behaves, and responds to both sets of questions, so they can testify in court how differently they behaved when asked the relevant and possibly incriminating evidence (he looked away when asked about the crime, he started to sweat, he became suddenly quiet, etc.).
4) WAIVER OF RIGHTS
After they complete the rapport-building phase, they will try and make sure they have a comfortable association with the person and try to make themselves seem friendly and amenable so it appears as if they are trying to help them. They then will make statements such as “well, it seems like you want to talk to me about this situation, let’s get your side of the story so we can get to the bottom of this and get you out of here.” Or perhaps they may say things such as “I just need to ask you a few routine questions, and realize, I am trying to help you.” Or something to the effect of, “We want to help you through this, we are on your side, we just want to get to the bottom of this, and so we just want to hear what you have to say, etc.”
They will then casually read a person their Miranda rights, carefully making it seem benign and very informal, and it is usually done in such a manner to be able to more easily get the person to voluntarily waive their rights. Then the person almost unconsciously waives their right because they believe the officer is telling the truth and just wants to hear their side of the story and once this is done, they will be able to leave this very uncomfortable and tense situation. If you resist during this stage, they may say things like “innocent people have nothing to hide.” They may try to talk a person into giving some information they seek by stating things such as “you will feel much better if you just talk to me. Tell me what happened. It’s okay, we are all humans.”
5) CONDITIONING/OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS
At this point, they are now trying to just get a person to just answer questions in general. They will begin with routine questions pertaining to non-damaging information – such as just asking them their name, address, date of birth, and phone number. Most of the time they know most, if not all of, this information and they are doing it solely as a ruse to put a person at ease as if they are indeed truly just trying to help and get to the bottom of whatever occurred. If one does not answer these questions, the interrogator may act confused and might say how they don’t understand what the problem is, as they are just trying to verify basic information. At this stage – one could try to gain an advantage over these psychological tactics by asking to see the file they have on the person being questioned and point out that if you review it, you will be happy to correct any information they have which may be incorrect. Here they asked open-ended questions to generate as much information as possible. They want the person to talk as much as possible. This is done in order to establish contradictions, inconsistencies, and so they can easily detect lies the person may be telling later on. They will carefully watch when you answer the questions that are easy to answer and compare to the ones that are more relevant to whatever incident they are asking questions on, while also watching and making notes on your eyes, your expressions, body language, posture that may lead to them believing you are lying with certain answers. Later when more critical questioning occurs, they will then compare and contrast this behavior to the questions they really want you to answer to.
At this point, they will directly accuse the person of the crime, usually in an unfavorable manner and in a confrontational fashion. They will then usually discuss the situation and may state something to the effect of, “look, we know you did this crime, we are just trying to understand why. If you help us understand why you did it, we can better help you through this process in the easiest manner possible.” They won’t let the person deny they committed the crime.
7) NO DENIALS
They will not allow the individual to verbalize any denial of the crime, WHATSOEVER, and any attempts to do so will be quickly and immediately be interrupted. They are in control, and they don’t want the person to backtrack and start denying they committed the crime. If the person does – the interrogator will interrupt them and continue to shut them off, and will persist in not allowing them to deny they committed the crime.
8) FALSE EVIDENCE
Regardless of the person continues to deny their involvement in whatever criminal offense is being investigating, remains silent, or does admit to any, some, or all portions related to the criminal offense investigated, this is where they will usually use “false evidence” against someone to really try and put icing on the cake. In effect, they will blatantly lie to a person to make them feel powerless, hopeless, and more susceptible to the pressure of confessing to some portion of, or perhaps even, all of the alleged crime. They will say things like “we have several eyewitnesses that have identified you at the scene, we have your fingerprints, DNA, etc. that all clearly indicate your guilt.” They may how if another person is involved (a co-defendant) they have already confessed and told them everything. They may then try and apply pressure and state something to the following effect, “We helped them tremendously through this, and it will be easy on them because they cooperated with us. They also told us everything about your involvement, so we already know, and so tell us your side of the story so we can help you through this situation as we did with them.” They may also tell you false lies such as “this is your last chance for us to help you out and to make a deal that will be favorable to you when we later go and talk to the Judge, the DA, etc.” They may even have a huge file on the table in front of the person with their name on it, perhaps DVD’s or other surveillance videos also with the person’s name on it – even if they are all blank and often contain absolutely nothing at all to do with the person. This is done, again, to apply psychological pressure to make it seem like there is a mountain of evidence against them, and so any further attempt to not cooperate is not only futile, but they make it appear and seem as if they confess and admit their guilt, they will do their best to help them out of the jam they are now in.
At this point, they will offer two themes for why the crime was committed. One is a bad motive, and they may offer a bad reason for why it happened. They do this in hopes the person will counter with an alternate explanation as to the motive that does not portray them in a bad light. However, nonetheless, in doing this the suspect is essentially confessing to their involvement in the crime. They also will offer a good theme for the crime as motive, in order to hopefully help ease the person into complying into offering information and may say things to the suspect such as “we know this was an accident, or we know you were intoxicated, we know the other person threatened you and felt like you were in fear for your life, etc.” Offering this good theory as motive gives this person some psychological justification for why they may have committed the crime or the reason for why they were involved. In either scenario – these good and bad themes are offered in order for a person to either counter the “bad” motive with whatever their real intentions were, or with the “good” theme to help them admit their involvement, so they may feel like the police officer conducting the interrogation identifies with why or how the crime occurred.
At this point, they will try and get the confession outright. They may be very kind to the person, gently putting a hand on their shoulder in order for them to feel support to help induce a confession and/or for them to offer an explanation for whatever crime was committed (which is tantamount to a confession). They will try their best at this point to comfort the person and may tell them “they are doing the right thing now” to help the process of easing an admission, a confession, or any statement that may implicate guilt which is incriminating to the suspect. If a confession is given (or an explanation given that is basically a confession and admission of guilt) afterward, they may ask the person to write things down about the incident. They may ask them to sign a confession outright. Or, they possibly may try to induce getting something written signed by saying things like “we are going to show this to the Judge, to the DA, etc. to help you later so they can see on paper just how cooperative you were with us during this process.” Likewise, they may say “it will help you later on if they write an apology letter right now” with the contents something to the effect of being tantamount to a confession related to their role in the criminal offense, and which will effectively be used later as an outright confession.
The main point to all of this and how interrogations and questioning are conducted on someone suspected of a crime, the reality is that police officer, investigators, and detectives are very well-trained in what they do and have perfected the art of the process listed above. They are very good at conducting all interrogation techniques, and usually, tailor each to a specific situation or person to be able to obtain the best possible chance for a confession or an admission of guilt. It should go without saying how all of these techniques they are trained and taught to help obtain confessions are fraught with unreliability and easily could lead to false confessions. Thus, it could very easily lead an otherwise innocent person into falsely confessing to a crime they did not commit and had absolutely nothing to do with. A that every minimum, it is clearly unreliable in how the entire process is conducted, and it is therefore impossible to be able to tell if someone is indeed making a false confession, from one where a person may be making either a partial or a full confession.
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