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How police use lies and threats to get false confessions

The police interrogation chamber isn’t a two-way room. The police hold all the power. They hold you in place. They ask the questions. They can make the threats. And they can lie.

The result is that they often elicit false confessions. More often that you might expect. In fact, more than one-quarter of the people exonerated by the Innocence Project had made false confessions. Given that most people can’t understand why anyone would ever give a false confession, the fact is somewhat alarming.

What happens inside a police interrogation?

Nearly everyone has seen some version of a police interrogation. They’re common on television and in the movies, but few interrogation scenes offer a real understanding of what takes place. Certain things, such as physical violence or psychological torture, are forbidden. But the police have a lot of freedom to lie, threaten and encourage suspects to tell them what they want to hear. And what they often want to hear is a confession, even if it’s not true.

As Science magazine reported, much of the problem owes to the widespread use of the Reid technique. It provides officers a tried and true way to bring people closer to their breaking points:

  • Officers begin by asking questions and observing the suspect for behavioral cues he or she is lying
  • Officers then push into a hard questioning, assuming guilt, looking for details and ignoring pleas of innocence
  • At the same time, officers try to play down the seriousness of the crime—not its legal dimensions, but its moral ones

This confusing barrage of blame, inquiry and sympathy often follows long periods of limited or no sleep. Interrogators may also prey upon their suspects’ concerns outside of the case at hand. For example, one Indiana man claims he gave a false confession after the police said they’d keep him and his fiancé locked up until they lost custody of their child. Another suspect falsely confessed to the murder of his mother after the police shocked him with a lie that his father had already testified against him.

Everyone has a breaking point. The Reid technique helps interrogators push suspects toward theirs. Locked up, confused and threatened, many people confess simply to escape their interrogations.

Exercise your right to silence

The biggest problem for those who give false confessions is that juries almost always believe them. Kammen & Moudy, we know how powerful confessions can be and how hard it is to remove them from the record. That’s why our attorneys remind you to use your right to remain silent. Ask for your attorney. You don’t want your words used against you in court.

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