The Reid technique is a method of questioning subjects to try to assess their credibility and to extract confessions of guilt from a suspect. Supporters argue the Reid technique is useful in extracting information from otherwise unwilling suspects, while critics have charged the technique can elicit false confessions from innocent persons, especially children. Indeed, Reid's breakthrough case resulted in an overturned conviction decades later.
The term "Reid Technique" is a registered trademark of the firm John E. Reid and Associates, which offers training courses in the method they have devised. The technique is widely used by law-enforcement agencies in North America. However it has been criticized as it has a long history of eliciting false confessions.
In the Reid technique, interrogation is an accusatory process in which the investigator tells the suspect that there is no doubt as to his or her guilt. The interrogation is in the form of a monologue presented by the investigator rather than a question and answer format. The demeanor of the investigator during the course of an interrogation is ideally understanding, patient, and non-demeaning. His or her goal is to make the suspect progressively more and more comfortable with acknowledging the presumed truth about what he or she is alleged to have done. This is accomplished by the investigators' first imagining and then offering the subject various psychological constructs as justification for their behavior.
For example, an admission of guilt might be prompted by the question, "Did you plan this out or did it just happen on the spur of the moment?" This technique uses a loaded question that contains the unspoken, implicit assumption of guilt. The idea is that the person under interrogation must catch the hidden assumption and contest it to avoid the trap. Critics regard this strategy as hazardous, arguing that it is subject to confirmation bias (likely to reinforce inaccurate beliefs or assumptions) and may lead to prematurely narrowing an investigation.
Nine steps of interrogation
The Reid technique's nine steps of interrogation are:
- Step 1 - Direct confrontation. Lead the suspect to understand that the evidence has led the police to the individual as a suspect. Offer the person an early opportunity to explain why the offense took place.
- Step 2 - Try to shift the blame away from the suspect to some other person or set of circumstances that prompted the suspect to commit the crime. That is, develop themes containing reasons that will justify or excuse the crime. Themes may be developed or changed to find one to which the accused is most responsive.
- Step 3 - Try to discourage the suspect from denying his or her guilt. Reid training video: "If you’ve let him talk and say the words ‘I didn’t do it’[...]the more difficult it is to get a confession."
- Step 4 - At this point, the accused will often give a reason why he or she did not or could not commit the crime. Try to use this to move towards the confession.
- Step 5 - Reinforce sincerity to ensure that the suspect is receptive.
- Step 6 - The suspect will become quieter and listen. Move the theme discussion towards offering alternatives. If the suspect cries at this point, infer guilt.
- Step 7 - Pose the “alternative question”, giving two choices for what happened; one more socially acceptable than the other. The suspect is expected to choose the easier option but whichever alternative the suspect chooses, guilt is admitted. There is always a third option which is to maintain that they did not commit the crime.
- Step 8 - Lead the suspect to repeat the admission of guilt in front of witnesses and develop corroborating information to establish the validity of the confession.
- Step 9 - Document the suspect's admission or confession and have him or her prepare a recorded statement (audio, video or written).
Critics of the technique claim it too easily produces false confessions, especially with children. The use of the Reid technique on youth is prohibited in several European countries because of the incidence of false confessions and wrongful convictions that result.
In Canada, a Provincial Court judge ruled in 2012 that "stripped to its bare essentials, the Reid Technique is a guilt-presumptive, confrontational, psychologically manipulative procedure whose purpose is to extract a confession." John E. Reid and Associates maintains that "it’s not the technique that causes false or coerced confessions but police detectives who apply improper interrogation procedures."
It was discovered in December 2013 that an unredacted copy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation interrogation manual had been impermissibly placed in the Library of Congress and was available for public view. The manual confirmed American Civil Liberties Union concerns that the agency used the Reid technique.
In 2015, John E. Reid & Associates settled with Juan Rivera, a Waukegan, Illinois man who was wrongfully convicted of the 1992 rape and murder of 11-year-old Holly Staker. A number of pieces of evidence excluded Juan, including DNA from the rape kit and the report from the electronic ankle monitor he was wearing at the time while awaiting trial for a non-violent burglary, however, he confessed after being interrogated for several days using the Reid technique. Reid contends that the false confession was the result of the Reid technique being used incorrectly. Rivera was taken to Reid headquarters in Chicago twice during his interrogation for polygraph tests, which were inconclusive, however, an employee named Michael Masokas told Rivera that he failed. After his exoneration, he filed a suit for false arrest and malicious prosecution. The case was settled out of court with John E. Reid & Associates paying $2 million.
- Starr, Douglas. "The Interview: Do police interrogation techniques produce false confessions?", The New Yorker, December 9, 2013
- Brian Gallini, "Police 'Science' in the Interrogation Room: Seventy Years of Pseudo-Psychological Interrogation Methods to Obtain Inadmissible Confessions", Hastings Law Journal, 61 (February 2010), p. 529. See abstract at: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1474813
- Zulawski, David E.; Wicklander, Douglas E. (2001). Practical Aspects of Interview and Interrogation. Ann Arbor: CRC Press. ISBN 978-0-8493-0101-8.
- Kassin, S. M.; Appleby, S. C.; Perillo, J. T. (February 2010). "Interviewing suspects: Practice, science, and future directions". Legal and Criminological Psychology 15: 39–55. doi:10.1348/135532509X449361. (preprint)
- Drizin, S. A.; Leo, R. A. (2004). "The problem of false confessions in the post-DNA world". North Carolina Law Review 82: 891–1007. (preprint)
- Beck, Susan (March 2009). "Saving Anthony Harris". The American Lawyer XXXI (3): 76.
- Vrij, A (1998). "Interviewing Suspects". In Memon, A.; Vrij, A; Bull, R. Psychology and Law: Truthfulness, Accuracy and Credibility. Maidenhead, UK: McGraw-Hill. pp. 124–144.
- Quan, Douglas (September 10, 2012). "Judge’s ruling finds widely used police interrogation technique ‘oppressive’". Canada.com.
- 'You'll never guess where this FBI agent left a secret interrogation manual', Mother Jones, Nick Baumann, 20 December 2013. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
- Starr, Douglas (May 22, 2015). "Juan Rivera and the Dangers of Coercive Interrogation". The New Yorker.
- John E. Reid and Associates
- The full 9 steps with key points
- "How Police Interrogation Works" by Julia Layton, HowStuffWorks
- "How To Sniff Out A Liar" by Melanie Lindner, Forbes magazine, 5/13/2009
- "Widely used police interrogation technique can result in false confession: Disclosure", CBC News, Jan 28, 2003