The Reid technique is a method of questioning suspects to try to assess their credibility, developed by consultant and polygraph expert John Reid. Supporters argue that the Reid technique is useful in extracting information from otherwise unwilling suspects, while critics have charged the technique can elicit false confessions from innocent people, especially children.  Reid's breakthrough case resulted in an overturned conviction decades later.
The Reid technique consists of a three-phase process beginning with Fact Analysis, followed by the Behavior Analysis Interview (a non-accusatory interview designed to develop investigative and behavioral information), followed when appropriate by the Reid Nine Steps of Interrogation. Individuals should only be interrogated when the information developed from the interview and investigation indicate that the subject is involved in the commission of the crime.
In the Reid technique, interrogation is an accusatory process in which the investigator tells the suspect that the results of the investigation clearly indicate that he did commit the crime in question. 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. The Reid technique user's goal is to make the suspect gradually more comfortable with telling the truth. This is accomplished by the investigators' first imagining and then offering the suspect 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 is called an alternative question which is based on an implicit assumption of guilt. The subject, of course, always has a third choice which is to deny any involvement at all. 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:
- Direct confrontation. Advise the suspect 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.
- 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 psychologically justify or excuse the crime. Themes may be developed or changed to find one to which the accused is most responsive.
- Try to minimize the frequency of suspect denials.
- 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 acknowledgement of what they did.
- Reinforce sincerity to ensure that the suspect is receptive.
- The suspect will become quieter and listen. Move the theme discussion towards offering alternatives. If the suspect cries at this point, infer guilt.
- 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. As stated above, there is always a third option which is to maintain that they did not commit the crime.
- Lead the suspect to repeat the admission of guilt in front of witnesses and develop corroborating information to establish the validity of the confession.
- Document the suspect's admission or confession and have him or her prepare a recorded statement (audio, video or written).
Risk of false confession
Critics of the technique claim it too easily produces false confessions, especially with children. The use acceptable techniques in the United States, such as lying to a suspect about evidence, are prohibited in several European countries because of the perceived risk of false confessions and wrongful convictions that might result, particularly with juveniles.
In Canada, Provincial Court Judge Mike Dinkel 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.
Abuses of the Reid method include falsely accused suspects being treated aggressively and told lies about the amount of evidence proving their guilt. Such exaggerated claims of evidence, such as video or genetics, has the potential, when combined with such coercive tactics as threats of harm or promises of leniency, to potentially cause innocent suspects becoming overwhelmed. In 2003 an innocent man who repeated he was not guilty and was on a bus at the time the robbery in question occurred, successfully sued the Hamilton Police Service.
In 2015, eight organizations including John E. Reid & Associates settled with Juan Rivera, who was wrongfully convicted of the 1992 rape and murder of 11-year-old Holly Staker. A number of pieces of evidence excluded Rivera, 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 by the police several days after taking two polygraph examinations at Reid and Associates. Reid contends that the false confession was the result of the Reid Technique being used incorrectly. After his exoneration, Rivera filed a suit for false arrest and malicious prosecution. The case was settled out of court with John E. Reid & Associates paying $2 million.
In 2015, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police adopted a new standard influenced by the PEACE model. Sgt. Darren Carr, who trains police with the new approach, described it as "less Kojak and more Dr. Phil". This approach eschews the use of deceptive information to overwhelm suspects. It emphasizes information gathering over eliciting confessions, and discourages investigators from presuming a suspect's guilt.
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