The Reid technique is a method of questioning subjects to try to assess their credibility through a non-accusatory interview process, and then if the investigative information indicates the subject's probable involvement in the commission of the crime, an accusatory interrogation is initiated to develop the truth. 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. 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. It has been criticized as a process that elicits false confessions. However, in the case U.S. v. Jacques 784 F.Supp.2d 59, the court stated that "the proffered expert testimony to the effect that the Reid technique enhanced the risk of an unreliable confession lacked any objective basis for support whatever."
The core principles of the Reid technique are:
1. Always conduct interviews and interrogations in accordance with the guidelines established by the courts
2. Do not make any promises of leniency
3. Do not threaten the subject with any physical harm or inevitable consequences
4. Do not deny the subject any of their rights
5. Do not deny the subject the opportunity to satisfy their physical needs
6. Always treat the subject with dignity and respect
The Reid technique consists of a three-phase process beginning with Fact Analysis, followed by the Behavior Analysis Interview (which is a non-accusatory interview designed to develop investigative and behavioral information), followed by, when appropriate, the Reid Nine Steps of Interrogation.
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. Advise the subject 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 psychologically 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.
On the other hand, in recent cases it should be noted that the courts have admonished the investigators for not following the guidelines and safeguards that the Reid Technique employs to protect the juvenile or mentally impaired individual from making a coerced or false confession - US v. Preston F.3d, 2014 WL 1876269 (C.A.9 (Ariz.) and People v. Elias 2015 WL 3561620.)
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."
On the other hand, the Canadian Supreme Court has ruled that several of the core elements of the Reid Technique are in complete compliance with legal practices: "There is nothing problematic or objectionable about police, when questioning suspects, in downplaying or minimizing the moral culpability of their alleged criminal activity. I find there was nothing improper in these and other similar transcript examples where [the detective] minimized [the accused’s] moral responsibility."R. v. Oickle,  2 S.C.R. 3.
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, eight organizations, including 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 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 for several days. Rivera was taken to Reid headquarters in Chicago twice during the investigation for polygraph tests, which indicated deception regarding his alibi. 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.
PEACE model for 21st century
The PEACE model developed in Britain, "encourages more of a dialogue between investigator and suspect." The Royal Canadian Mounted Police adopted the PEACE model in 2015. When training police with the new model Sgt. Darren Carr explains, use less Kojak and more Dr. Phil.
Under the Reid method used since the 1950s, falsely accused suspects were treated aggressively and told lies about the amount of evidence proving their guilt. Such exaggerated claims of evidence, such as video or genetics, led to potentially 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.
To the contrary, it is not the proper application of interrogation techniques that causes false confessions, it is the use of improper techniques such as promises of lenience or threats of inevitable consequences. In US v. Graham (June 2014) the US District Court, N.D. Georgia pointer out that "there are a number of cases in which statements elicited from a defendant in response to police deception were found involuntary… but "these cases all involve significant aggravating circumstances not present here, such as, subjecting the accused to an exhaustingly long interrogation, the application of physical force or the threat to do so, or the making of a promise that induces a confession.”
In other words, it is not the misrepresentation of evidence that is the genesis of a coerced or even false confession, but the "aggravating circumstances" present during the interrogation.
"Under the new model investigators do not use lies or exaggerated claims to overwhelm potentially innocent suspects. Under the RCMP's new approach, quietly adopted in December , investigators are encouraged to keep an open mind, resist presuming guilt, and focus more on gathering information than on getting a confession.— Douglas Quan National Post July 30, 2015
- 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. line feed character in
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- 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.
- Douglas Quan (July 30, 2015), RCMP adopts gentler grilling of suspects, Star Phoenix via National Post, retrieved July 30, 2015
- "Widely used police interrogation technique can result in false confession: Disclosure". CBC News. January 28, 2003. Retrieved July 30, 2015.