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You’ve seen it in movies, on television, and true-crime videos on YouTube. In real-life, the Reid Technique is very effective at producing confessions. First developed in the 1940s by John E. Reid, it has become the most widely used approach to interrogation in the world.

The Reid website states that an interrogation should only occur when the investigator is reasonably certain of the suspect’s involvement in the issue under investigation.

WHY IS IT SO EFFECTIVE?

The Reid Technique uses three powerful techniques that are designed to make the suspect believe that confessing to the crime is in their best interest.

1 – Isolation: The suspect is isolated in a windowless interrogation room with the aim of making them feel vulnerable and alone. 

2 – Maximization: The officer begins by stating that the suspect is guilty beyond doubt. They will then present a theory of the crime (sometimes with evidentiary support, other times completely fabricated) that includes details that the suspect can regurgitate to the officer. Through the course of the interview, the officer is firmly asserting the suspect’s guilt and ignoring any claims of innocence. This is the “bad cop” portion of the interview. 

3- Minimization: After the officer has made it clear that any claims of innocence will not be believed or accepted, the “good cop” portion of the interview begins. The officer pivots and adopts an understanding tone, and understates the crime in order to convince the suspect to admit wrongdoing. The officer offers absolution, and a release from the suspect’s guilt and shame. If the suspect confesses, the officers hint at lesser charges, or a chance to go home, as an alternative to risking indefinite incarceration.

If you are questioned at a police station, there is a good chance you will be subjected to the Reid technique. The best way to avoid saying anything that may incriminate you is to keep your mouth shut, and ask for a lawyer. 

 

NINE STEPS TO THE TRUTH

There are nine steps to the Reid interrogation technique:

  • Positive Confrontation. 

The investigator informs the suspect that the evidence clearly demonstrates the person’s guilt.

  • Theme Development. 

In a sympathetic manner, the investigator presents a moral justification, or “theme”, for the offense, such as attributing the act of committing the crime to outside circumstances, or placing the moral blame on someone else. 

  • Dealing With Denials

Typically, at this stage, the suspect will ask for permission to interject with claims of innocence. The investigator discourages the suspect from doing so, and does not permit any denials of guilt. Reid maintains that innocent people are less likely to ask for permission to speak, and more likely to promptly and unequivocally deny the accusation, stating “it is very rare for an innocent suspect to move past this denial state.”

  • Overcoming Objections

When denials do not succeed, the guilty party is likely to object to the accusation with motivated reasoning to reinforce their claim of innocence, like “I would never do that because I love my ex. We are friends”. At this stage, the investigator feigns consideration of the suspect’s argument, but weaves their denial into the fabric of the ever evolving theme. 

  • Getting And Keeping The Suspect’s Attention

The investigator must acquire the suspect’s attention, and keep it, so that the focus of the interrogation remains on the theme. A clever way to achieve this, is for the investigator to close the physical distance between them and the suspect. According to Reid, the investigator should “channel the theme down to the probable alternative components.”

  • Handling The Suspect’s Passive Mood 

If the suspect becomes quiet and listens, the investigator shifts the theme of the discussion towards offering alternatives. Pressure is applied keeping an understanding and sympathetic tone, and if the suspect begins to break down emotionally, guilt is often interfered at this stage. 

  • Presenting An Alternative Question. 

The investigator now presents two choices, both developed as a logical extension of the theme, with one of the alternatives offering a more palatable justification for the crime.  Then investigators may ask, “Did you plan this, or did it happen on the spur of the moment?”. The question is supported by the investigator with statements which encourage the suspect to choose the more reasonable alternative.

  • Lead The Suspect To Unveil Details Of The Offence. 

When the suspect accepts one of the presented alternatives, thus confessing to the crime, the investigator will immediately acknowledge the admission, and begin developing corroborating information to establish the validity of the confession. Before asking more detailed questions, they will encourage the suspect to review the basic events and repeat the admission of guilt in front of witnesses.

  • Convert The Oral Confession To A Recorded Confession. 

Once the subject decides to acknowledge their involvement in committing the crime, the goal is to develop the details of the offence. At this point in the interrogation, active persuasion stops and the investigator asks questions that encourage the subject to provide the specifics of the crime. The suspect then prepares a recorded statement and their admission or confession is documented (audio, video, or written).

OBTAIN THE TRUTH, NOT A CONFESSION

Throughout an interrogation, the investigator’s goal is to learn the truth. On page 4 of the Reid training manual, and page 5 of Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, they state that the objective of an interrogation is to elicit the truth from a subject, not a confession. There are several possible outcomes to a successful interrogation:

  • The subject is innocent.
  • The subject did not commit the offence, but lied about some aspect of the investigation.
  • The subject did not commit the offence, but knows who did.
  • The subject is guilty.

No matter the crime, the core of the Reid Technique interrogation process is to use empathy, reasoning and logic to obtain the truth.

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