The Reid technique is a method of questioning suspects that was developed in the 1950s in the United States by John E. Reid (d. 1982), an American consultant and polygraph expert who was a former Chicago police officer. Supporters argue that the Reid technique, a psychological method, is useful in extracting information from otherwise unwilling suspects. But critics have found that the technique can elicit an unacceptably high rate of false confessions from innocent people, especially juveniles.
In 1955 in Lincoln, Nebraska, Reid helped gain a confession from a suspect (Darrel Parker) in his wife's murder. This case established Reid's reputation and popularized his technique. Parker recanted his confession the next day, but it was admitted to evidence at his trial. He was convicted by a jury and sentenced to life in prison. He was later determined to be innocent, after another man confessed and was found to have been the perpetrator. Parker sued the state for wrongful conviction; it paid him $500,000 in compensation.
With this success, Reid hired additional staff, setting up his company as John E. Reid and Associates. His company made "The Reid technique" a registered trademark. He published a text of the Reid Technique in 1962 and as of 2013, it was in its fifth printing. Reid died in 1982 but the company continued. In 2013 it was led by president Joseph Buckley, who had been hired by Reid. By that year this company "trained more interrogators than any other company in the world", and Reid's technique had been adopted by law enforcement agencies of many different types, especially influential in North America.
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. According to process guidelines, individuals should be interrogated only 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 they 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 investigator's 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 of the discussion toward 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 claim the technique too easily produces false confessions, especially with juveniles, with second-language speakers in their non-native language, and with people whose communication/language abilities are affected by mental disabilities, including reduced intellectual capacity.
"Of the three hundred and eleven people exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing, more than a quarter had given false confessions—including those convicted in such notorious cases as the Central Park Five."
Several European countries prohibit some interrogation techniques that are acceptable in the United States, such as a law enforcement officer lying to a suspect about evidence, due to the perceived risk of false confessions and wrongful convictions that might result, particularly with juveniles. For example, §136a of the German Strafprozessordnung (StPO, "code of criminal procedure") bans the use of deception and intimidation in interrogations; the Reid method also conflicts with the German police's obligation to adequately inform the suspect of their right to silence.
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."
In December 2013, an unredacted copy of the secret Federal Bureau of Investigation interrogation manual was discovered in the Library of Congress, available for public view. The manual confirmed American Civil Liberties Union concerns that FBI agents used the Reid technique in interrogations.
Abuses of interrogation methods include officers treating accused suspects aggressively and telling them lies about the amount of evidence proving their guilt. Such exaggerated claims of evidence, such as video or genetics, have the potential, when combined with such coercive tactics as threats of harm or promises of leniency, to cause innocent suspects to become psychologically 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 for coercion that produced in a false confession by him.
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, as he awaited trial for a non-violent burglary. But, he falsely confessed to the Staker crimes after being interrogated by the police several days after taking two polygraph examinations at Reid and Associates. 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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