Interviewing and interrogation is an imperative component of the criminal justice system, particularly in cases with limited or non-existent physical evidence. In cases such as these, the information gleaned from interviews and interrogations typically make up the body of the evidence against a particular suspect or number of suspects, hence the importance of learning and practicing effective interview and interrogation techniques. For the purposes of this paper, I will begin by discussing the differences between an interview and interrogation, in addition to the differences between a witness and a criminal suspect. I will then discuss the various techniques imployed by law enforcement investigators, to include the popular Reid Technique of interrogation.
An investigative interview typically precedes an interrogation. In many cases, interviews of potential witnesses -- who at the time of interview commencement are typically not considered criminal suspects -- reveal key information leading to the identification and/or apprehension of one or several suspects. An interview is conducted in a casual, non-accusatory fashion, in simple question-and-answer (Q&A) format, the purpose of which is to glean as much information regarding the specific details of the crime as possible. These details could include the time and place of the crime, the specific nature of the crime -- robbery, assault, homicide, etc. -- the number of persons involved in the crime and their physical descriptions. Interviews typically take place in a setting that promotes the physical and emotional comfort of the witness, such as the witness's home or a place of neutral ground (Thakur, 2010).
By contrast, an interrogation of a criminal suspect typically takes place in an interrogation room or other venue designed to give the investigating officer the upper hand. The general nature of the interrogation -- aggressive or nonaggressive -- largely depends on the nature of potential offender, i.e. emotional or non-emotional. While emotional offenders are often first-time offenders who committed the offense with little to no pre-meditation -- and typically feel remorse after committing the crime -- non-emotional offenders are typically professional criminals who feel very little remorse, if any, and as a result are more difficult to illicit a confession from. In order to determine if a potential offender is emotional or non-emotional, investigators gather the following information prior to engaging in an interrogation:
The suspect's name, age, profession or occupation.
The suspect's financial status, criminal history (if any), and relationship to the victim (if any).
The victim's name, age, profession or occupation.
The victim's financial status, criminal history (if any), and relationship to the suspect (if any).
The time and place the crime was committed.
Crime modus operandi.
Physical evidence if available.
Information gleaned from witness interviews if available.
If, after gathering this information, it is determined that the suspect is likely an emotional offender, the interrogation technique is typically empathy-based, in which the investigator attempts to ingratiate himself to the suspect by presenting an understanding, non-judgmental demeanor designed to invoke the suspect's trust and so encourage his confession. If physical evidence and/or witness information is available, the investigator will typically present this information in a sympathetic, matter-of-fact but non-aggressive way, after which the vast majority of emotional offenders will admit to their involvement in the crime (Thakur, 2010).
By contrast, non-emotional offenders will likely be resistant to purely factual and/or evidence-based interrogation techniques, and so require a different approach to illicit a confession. By and large, the most popular approach to illiciting a confession from non-emotional offenders is the "Reid Technique," as developed by John E. Reid, criminal investigator and founder of a private polygraph firm in 1947. The Reid Technique, as outlined in Criminal Interrogation and Confessions (2004), is based on the following three part process of solving a crime:
1. Collection and analysis of evidence/information relative to the crime scene, victim and potential witnesses.
2. Witness interviews, commonly referred to as the "Behavior Analysis Interview," conducted in simple Q&A format.
3. Interrogation of suspects and/or dishonest witnesses designed to illicit true information or confession of perpetration (Inbau, Reid, Buckley & Jayne, 2004).
As the purpose of interrogation is to illicit truth, interrogation tactics must be persuasive enough to make a guilty person confess, but not so persuasive as to make an innocent person confess to crime he has no recollection of committing. At no time should an investigator attempt to persuade a person of his involvement in a crime he does not remember. For the purposes of this paper, we are concerned primarily with interrogation techniques designed to illicit a confession from a non-emotional offender who clearly recollects committing the offence.
Based on the notion that resistance to confession is motivated by the desire to avoid the consequences of a crime, the Reid Technique attempts to reduce perceived consequences by employing "soft" language in reference to the crime. For example, in the case of a homicide, an investigator might suggest that a suspect "caused the death of a victim" as opposed "murdered" the victim. In addition, an investigator employing the Reid technique will avoid referring to the potential sentence for a particular crime, and will not directly answer suspect inquiries as to the sentence she is facing. Another component of the Reid technique is the showing of compassion, patience, and understanding of why the suspect might have committed the crime, which reinforces the offender's own justification of her criminal actions, potentially resulting in an admission of guilt. The Reid technique is based on the assumed "victim mentality" of offenders, essentially referring to their inclination to blame external forces -- such as the actions of the victim or society as a whole -- for their criminal actions (Jayne & Buckley, 2011).
More specifically, the Reid Technique can be broken down into the following steps:
1. Direct Positive Confrontation, in which the investigator advises the suspect that the evidence suggests he is responsible for the committed crime. While this may or may not be true, it has proven effective in deciphering innocence or guilt based on the suspect's reaction to direct positive confrontation. While an innocent person who knows he is innocent will not hesitate to challenge this statement, a guilty person -- though he might verbally deny involvement -- might exhibit telling symptoms of guilt such as a suddenly dry mouth, flushed or pale complexion, and excess fidgeting.
2. Theme Development, in which the investigator presents a scenario of guilt and motivation in uninterrupted monologue form. For example,
"Jim, I think you acted out of desperation because of your financial situation. I don't think you are a common criminal who enjoys doing things like this. I think you tried hard to keep up with your utility bills, rent and car payments but kept falling further and further behind. Because you are conscientious and want to pay your bills on time you saw this as your only chance to catch up financially. In a moment of desperation you saw that man, who was obviously well dressed and who had plenty of money, and decided on the spur of the moment to do this." (Jayne & Buckley, 2011)
It is important to note that the most successful themes treat a non-emotional offender like an emotional offender, insofar as they exhibit sympathy for the offender and understanding of the offender's motivation.
3. Discouragement of Denial, in which the investigator attempts to prevent the suspect from denying involvement in the crime. This is based on the notion that the more often a suspect denies involvement, the more difficult it becomes for her to confess involvement in a crime.
4. Step Down, in which the investigator decreases the intensity of the interrogation after the suspect's denial. Once again, this step is designed to reduce the frequency and intensity of a suspect's denial.
5. Redirect Attention to Theme, in which the investigator draws the suspect's attention back…