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What You Should Know if You Are Interrogated

Only you can know you are truly innocent.

Key points

  • A person is not obligated to submit to an interrogation; instead, they can assert their right to silence and legal representation.
  • Law enforcement officers rarely interrogate people they do not believe are guilty, and this is often reflected in their mode of questioning.
  • One popular method of interrogation in the US is the REID technique, which has been criticized for being psychologically manipulative.

This is the fourth entry in a multi-part series covering what you should know when interacting with law enforcement. This post will cover what you should know if you are interrogated by police.

First, you are not obligated to submit to interrogation—you can never be compelled to serve as a witness against yourself. Nor are you obligated to continue an interrogation that you wish to stop (it might feel like you cannot escape an interrogation, but you can assert your right to silence and/or your right to legal representation at any time).

Atstock Productions/Shutterstock
Source: Atstock Productions/Shutterstock

We know you did it

Interrogations are guilt-presumptive procedures. Law enforcement rarely interrogate people they do not believe are guilty of something, and their belief in your guilt will skew how they question you (and how they interpret your responses).

Others have characterized interrogations as truth-seeking processes, and acknowledge that a “successful” interrogation outcome could include determining that the suspect is innocent. But, it is unclear how innocent suspects are supposed to prove their innocence to their interrogators, particularly when those interrogators believe them to be guilty. Further, most interrogation tactics are clearly aimed at securing a confession rather than gathering information.

One of the most popular methods of interrogation in the United States is the REID technique. The technique employs nine steps—I encourage you to examine these steps and determine whether you believe they aim to secure a confession or to gather information.

We’re certain you had a reason

The REID technique employs a number of psychologically manipulative strategies to encourage confessions.

Ultimately, this technique focuses on the goal of developing themes wherein interrogators provide some moral justification for the suspected crime. For instance, in cases of sexual assault, interrogators might pretend to have similar urges when seeing attractive women/men. In a similar vein, they might employ tactics of minimization wherein they downplay the seriousness of the crime. While interrogators are not permitted to make explicit promises to suspects during interrogation, the Courts have allowed them to engage in minimization tactics. Yet, research has indicated that the impact of minimization tactics on suspects’ perceptions of their impending sentences can be similar to the impact of explicit promises.

You are in serious trouble

Interrogations can then combine minimization with maximizationa technique wherein interrogators aggressively confront suspects, conveying the seriousness of the situation. These techniques can be combined by a single interrogator, or employed by a team of interrogators (e.g., good cop, bad cop).

An alternative approach

REID proponents have tried to claim that the only alternative to interrogation procedures being guilt-presumptive would be to interrogate everyone—obviously, a ludicrous straw man argument. True alternatives to the REID technique (and other guilt-presumptive interrogation approaches) have already been implemented in many countries. Specifically, several countries have developed different models for questioning suspects that truly focus on information gathering (rather than securing a confession). One such method is called the PEACE model.

More from Miko M. Wilford Ph.D.
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