The interrogation industry: Part 1

Half a century ago the Supreme Court in Miranda v.  Arizona described with distaste the tricks and psychological manipulations recommended in police training manuals.  Quoting from the 1962 edition of Inbau & Reid’s Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, the Court described the ruse whereby the interrogator pretends to have definite proof that the suspect did it,  but offers him a story that minimizes the legal consequences.

“Well, Joe,” says the cop (all suspects were named Joe),  “you probably didn’t go out looking for this fellow with the purpose of shooting him. My guess is, however, that you expected something from him and that’s why you carried a gun—for your own protection. You knew him for what he was, no good. Then when you met him he probably started using foul, abusive language and he gave some indication that he was about to pull a gun on you, and that’s when you had to act to save your own life. That’s about it, isn’t it, Joe?”

If Joe agrees to the cop’s made-up story, the cop points out that the guy was shot in the head while asleep. So the story couldn’t be true, but it got Joe to admit to shooting him. “Thereafter, with relative ease, the interrogator will be able to secure the true explanation,” crows Inbau & Reid.

The problem is that Joe may be innocent, but so convinced by the false assurances that the cops had definite proof of his guilt that he agreed to the justification scenario as the only apparent way out.  An unacceptable number of innocent Joes have spent years in prison including on death row after falling for tricks like this.

That doesn’t bother Inbau & Reid, which has swelled into a commercial empire of police training manuals, videos and courses on how to trick a suspect into being “made the deluded instrument of his own conviction,” as Justice Frankfurter put it.

You can watch demos of the Reid Technique where the narrator (a smooth televangelist type)  explains how you can tell whether a person is lying.  Role-playing cops demonstrate how truthful suspects cross their legs in a relaxed manner and provide the “investigator” (no longer the “interrogator”) with the names of people who probably did it.

Liars, on the other hand, engage in grooming gestures (italics in original), such as “lint picking, dusting clothing, or pulling threads.”  They cross their legs deceptively. They shrug.

Truthful suspectPostures of truthful and untruthful suspects.

Illustrating vs. deceptive hand gesturesGestures of truthful and untruthful suspects.

Based on this scientific method of separating the guilty from the innocent, the suspect is fair game for every kind of trick.  The latest Inbau & Reid describes “the bait question.” When the suspect denies being at the crime scene, the interrogator says, “Carl,” (the name pool has expanded)  “do you know very much about spy satellites?” explaining that they routinely photograph just where the crime took place. The interrogator then asks something like, “Do you think it’s possible that the photograph would show you climbing out of the basement window that day?”

If you think interrogation means asking the suspect for information, fuggetaboutit.  In fact, the suspect can’t be allowed to talk, because he’ll just deny his guilt.  And we know he’s guilty because he’s sitting with his legs deceptively crossed and making grooming gestures.

“There’s two sides to every story,” intones the interrogator in the Reid demo, but immediately cuts off the suspect when he tries to say something.  “Vinnie,” he says.  “You probably didn’t go out looking for this fellow with the purpose of shooting him. My guess is that,” etc.  He inches his chair closer.  “It was spur of the moment, wasn’t it?” he murmurs. “It was spur of the moment. . . spur of the moment. . .  spur of the moment. . .  wasn’t it. . .  wasn’t it?”  breathing softly into the suspect’s face.”  Hard not to toss your cookies.

Justice Clark, dissenting in Miranda sniffed that the police manuals cited by the majority were “merely writings filed by professors and some police officers.  Not one is shown by the record here to be the official manual of any police department, much less in universal use in crime detection.” He just couldn’t believe the police would be so un-cricket. Too bad he couldn’t google Reid, Inc. or read the endless decisions condoning police deception to see how universal it’s become.

Even Inbau & Reid recognize that the tricks they recommend are unethical, but explain that “interrogators must deal with criminal suspects on a somewhat lower moral plane than that upon which ethical, law-abiding citizens are expected to conduct their everyday affairs.”  American courts have swallowed this whole. When did you ever see an American court use “ethical” and “police interrogation” in the same sentence? But it’s not like that everywhere.

To be continued.

About Appellate Squawk

A satirical blog for criminal defense lawyers and their friends who won't give up without a squawk.
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6 Responses to The interrogation industry: Part 1

  1. Alex Bunin says:

    They wouldn’t need to lie to Joe if he would just stop crossing his legs picking lint off himself.


  2. Actually it was the cops who were crossing their legs and picking lint off themselves. . .


  3. Maria H says:

    I find the presumption of guilt inherent in the Reid method particularly clear from the quote pulled out (“interrogators must deal with criminal suspects on a somewhat lower moral plane than that upon which ethical, law-abiding citizens are expected to conduct their everyday affairs.”). The first thought that comes to my mind is that we are talking about SUSPECTS, not convicted criminals. The second thought is WHY? Even if, through the magic of the pre-interview interrogation prescribed by Reid, all innocent suspects would be weeded out (yeah right), and only sleazy bad guys were subjected to interrogation, what is the moral justification for lowering one’s standard of conduct with these people? Have they lost their rights to be treated as human beings (rhetorical q, obviously)?


    • Well, according to the Reid manual, expecting the police to operate on an ethical, law-abiding moral plane is equivalent to requiring a 20mph speed limit to make highways safer. And who could put up with THAT?


  4. Pingback: Prosecutors’ junta gets coal in its stocking for Christmas | appellatesquawk

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