Police Interview Techniques

Numerous American manuals detail the way in which coercive and manipulative interrogation techniques can be employed by police officers to obtain a confession (40,41), with similar techniques being advocated by Walkley (42) in the first such manual written for British officers. The authors of these manuals propound various highly effective methods for breaking down a suspect's resistance while justifying a certain amount of pressure, deception, persuasion, and manipulation as necessary for the "truth" to be revealed. Walkley acknowledges that "if an interviewer wrongly assesses the truth-teller as a lie-teller he may subject that suspect to questioning of a type which induces a false confession." Generally, however, the manuals pay scant attention to certain circumstances in which the techniques they recommend may make a suspect confess to a crime he or she did not commit. Although studies in the United Kingdom have suggested that coercive interview techniques are employed less frequently than in the past, manipulative and persuasive tactics continue to be used, particularly in relation to more serious crimes (43,44).

Interrogators are encouraged to look for nonverbal signs of anxiety, which are often assumed to indicate deception. However, the innocent, as well as the guilty, may exhibit signs of nervousness. Innocent suspects may be anxious because they are erroneously being accused of being guilty, because of worries about what is going to happen to them while in custody, and possibly because of concerns that the police may discover some previous transgression. Furthermore, there are three aspects of a police interview that are likely to be as stressful to the innocent as to the guilty: the stress caused by the physical environment in the police station, the stress of being isolated from family and friends, and the stress caused by the suspect's submission to authority. All these factors can markedly impair the performance of a suspect during an interview. Indeed, American research has suggested that for most suspects, interrogations are likely to be so stressful that they may impair their judgment on such crucial matters as the exercise of legal rights (45).

Given the interview techniques employed by the police and the stresses interrogation places on the accused, there is little wonder that false confessions are occasionally made to the police.

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