The presumption of innocence is a cornerstone of the U.S. criminal justice system. It dictates that a person should not be presumed guilty merely because he or she has been accused of a crime. However, that protection serves no purpose in cases where a confession has been coaxed out of someone during an interrogation even though the individual knows he or she did not commit the crime.
It is unfathomable to most people who have not been subjected to a police interrogation why anyone would admit to a crime they did not commit. But the statistics on false confessions are alarming. According to the Innocence Project, more than one out of four people wrongfully convicted but later exonerated by DNA evidence made a false confession or incriminating statement.
No Longer Training the Reid Method
That's why it was encouraging to hear earlier this month that a leading provider of interrogation training services for federal law enforcement organizations will no longer offer training in the Reid Method, a widely used "confrontational" interrogation strategy that has been shown to elicit false confessions.
You may not know the Reid Method by name, but chances are you have seen its techniques at work through depictions of police interrogations in movies or TV shows. The approach incorporates marathon interrogation sessions in tight quarters and assertive accusations of guilt supported by large amounts of evidence (whether it truly exists or not).
Risks Outweigh The Benefits
In announcing the decision to eliminate its training in the Reid Method, Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates President Shane Sturman says the decision came in large part at the behest of many of its law enforcement clients, who are wary of the risks of false confessions the interrogation tactic is known to produce. "Confrontation is not an effective way of getting truthful information," he says.
A statement on the company's website about the decision explains, "beginning a conversation with a confrontation almost always results in an emotional denial by the subject. From a guilty subject the denial is a lie, and from an innocent subject the denial stems from fear of being disbelieved. Either way, the conversation has begun with emotional pressure on the subject resulting in an adversarial relationship with the interviewer. A more effective way to identify the truth is through a variety of non-confrontational techniques that allow the conversation to remain cordial without pushing the subject into an emotional or defensive state."
False Confessions Won't Disappear
Decreased use of the Reid Method by law enforcement agencies nationwide should result in fewer incidents of false confessions, but it won't eliminate them. There are numerous reasons why people confess to crimes they did not commit, including a belief that admitting guilt will lead to more lenient treatment by police and prosecutors. Mental impairment also plays a role in a number of false confessions.
If you are taken into custody and interrogated by police in connection with a crime, it is always wise to insist on exercising your right to speak with a criminal defense attorney before answering any questions.