John E. Reid and Associates recently filed a defamation suit against Netflix and Ava DuVernay. The lawsuit arises from the recent series, When They See Us, which dramatizes the Central Park jogger case. Although the merits of the suit will be decided by the court, the Netflix series is not the first to call into question the tactics recommended in the Reid approach.
From a psychological and developmental perspective, there are good reasons to question the wisdom of using some of these tactics, especially with people who are vulnerable (e.g., low IQ, low social functioning, youth). While many people have written about the problems with the Reid Technique, including its potential to elicit false confessions, this approach is especially problematic when used with juveniles. However, police in the United States are generally taught to interrogate adults and juveniles using the same method – and by and large – that method is the Reid Technique (Cleary & Warner, 2016; Gallini, 2019; Reid & Inbau, 2000).
The Reid Technique
The Reid Technique consists of two parts: first is a Behavioral Analysis Interview (BAI) in which the interrogating officer asks non-accusatory questions of the suspect in order to evaluate whether the suspect’s behavior seems like that of a guilty person or of an innocent person (Inbau, Reid, Buckley, & Jayne, 2013). Only if the interrogator believes the suspect is guilty does the second phase begin, which is the Reid nine-step interrogation (Inbau et al., 2013). Generally, the nine steps involved in the Reid Technique are applied with the goal of obtaining a confession from the suspect.
Criticisms of the Reid Technique
The Reid Technique has been criticized because of the psychological tactics of manipulation that may induce people to give false confessions (Gallini, 2019). First, the purpose of the BAI is for the interrogator to analyze the suspect’s behavior for signs of guilt. However, research indicates that police are generally no better than laypeople at determining guilt based on behavioral cues (Vrij, Granhag, & Porter, 2010). In part, this is because behavioral indicators are not reliable in discriminating between liars and truth-tellers (Vrij et al., 2010). The faith and confidence that police officers may have in their own ability to identify a guilty suspect from an innocent person is not supported by research. Incorrectly identifying an innocent person as a guilty suspect becomes very problematic because once the interrogating officer believes in the suspect’s guilt, the tactics in the Reid method accommodate no option for the suspect to continue to maintain his innocence.
The confrontational manner in which the interrogations are conducted, deception, and the presumption of guilt, are also common critiques of the method. For example, one tactic in the Reid Technique is to convince the suspect that denying his guilt is futile. In order to convince the suspect of the futility of denial, it is not uncommon for police to fabricate the existence of some physical evidence (e.g., hair, DNA match, fingerprint, etc.). Lying about the existence of evidence has been linked to false confessions in both real cases and in laboratory settings (Kassin, 2014). Overall, there are many concerns about the tactics and methods employed in the Reid Technique and the potential for inducing false confessions. This potential becomes of even greater concern when these tactics are applied to interrogating juveniles.
Special Issues Among Juvenile Suspects
Although some adolescents may appear (and act) like adults, there are some important and fundamental differences between the cognitive abilities of this population as compared to their adult counterparts. Neuroscientific research has confirmed that the development of the prefrontal cortex does not complete until around the age of 25, which has been proposed as one reason why juveniles exhibit deficits in appreciation of the long-term consequences of their actions (Grisso, 2006; McMullen, 2005). The prefrontal cortex is implicated in inhibiting impulsivity, controlling emotions, and the capacity to make decisions based on planning and consideration of the consequences of one’s actions (Grisso, 2006; McMullen, 2005). Therefore, there appears to be a neurobiological basis to explain why juveniles tend to be impulsive and have a difficult time considering the long-term consequences of their decisions, often seeking an immediate reward with little consideration for possible effects in the future (Owen-Kostelnik, Reppucci, & Meyer, 2006).
Juveniles tend to be particularly vulnerable to accusatorial styles of interrogation (Drizin & Leo, 2004), which raises concerns regarding false confessions when juveniles are faced with the confrontational and manipulative tactics recommended in the Reid approach (Kassin, 2014). For example, in a laboratory setting, Redlich and Goodman (2003), reported that 78% of 12- to 13-year-olds, 72% of 15- to 16-year-olds, and 59% of young adults made a false confession about causing a computer to crash. In an analysis of 125 real proven false confession cases that occurred between 1971 and 2002, nearly one-third of those cases involved juveniles under the age of 18, and about 63% were under the age of 25 (Drizin & Leo, 2004). Although no causal claim can be made about the role of the development of the prefrontal cortex in false confessions among young people, the fact that a significant majority of proven false confession cases involve people under the age of 25 does lend support to the body of research suggesting that young people are particularly vulnerable in the interrogation context.
Adolescents are also more likely to make admissions of guilt (both true and false) when compared to adults (Malloy, Shulman, & Cauffman, 2014). While it may seem desirable that adolescents provide true admissions of guilt, such behavior is problematic where these youths are making statements against their own legal self-interests without the benefit of legal counsel. Furthermore, juveniles are less likely to understand their legal rights and they are more likely to waive those rights (Grisso, 2006), making their statements very difficult to challenge in court after the statements are made.
Research findings also indicate that juveniles are more likely to defer to an authority figure’s explanation of events and suggestions of the juvenile’s guilt (McMullen, 2005; Redlich & Goodman, 2003). In addition, juveniles are biologically and psychologically less risk-averse than adults, less able to understand the potential consequences of confessing to a crime, more likely to act impulsively, and more likely to confess out of fear or despair to try to escape the interrogation setting (McMullen, 2005). Relatedly, the belief that if they confessed they could go home is one of the most commonly-cited reasons among adolescents who have given false confessions (Drizin & Leo, 2004). Adolescents’ greater propensity to defer to authority figures, to behave impulsively without regard for consequences, and limitations in their ability to engage in long-term planning makes this population particularly susceptible to the manipulation, deceit, and high-pressure tactics (Owen-Kostelnik et al., 2006), which are core facets of the Reid approach to interrogation (Moore & Fitzsimmons, 2011).
The Reid Technique is premised on using psychological manipulation and pressure to obtain an admission of guilt in the legal setting. The technique has been criticized due to the potential that innocent people will be coerced into a false confession. The risk of a false confession when the Reid Technique is used with juveniles is exponentially higher given the myriad ways in which juveniles are developmentally unprepared to assert their legal rights. Furthermore, juveniles lack the cognitive capacity to engage in a mental sparring match with an adult authority figure – and children should not have to do so when the entirety of their future is at stake.
Cleary, H. M. D., & Warner, T. C. (2016). Police training in interviewing and interrogation methods: A comparison of techniques used with adult and juvenile suspects. Law and Human Behavior, 40(3), 270–284. https://doi.org/10.1037/lhb0000175
Drizin, S. A., & Leo, R. A. (2004). The problem of false confessions in the post-DNA world. North Carolina Law Review, 82(3), 891–1008.
Gallini, B. (2019). The interrogations of Brendan Dassey. Marquette Law Review, 102, 777–838.
Grisso, T. (2006). Adolescents’ decision making: A developmental perspective on constitutional provisions in delinquency cases. New England Journal on Criminal and Civil Confinement, 32(1), 3–14.
Inbau, F. E., Reid, J. E., Buckley, J. P., & Jayne, B. C. (2013). Criminal interrogations and confessions (5th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Kassin, S. M. (2014). False confessions: Causes, consequences, and implications for reform. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1(1), 112–121.
Lloyd, B. (2018). Making an involuntary confession: An analysis of improper interrogation tactics used on intellectually impaired individuals and their role in obtaining involuntary confessions. Law & Psychology Review, 42, 117–129.
Malloy, L. C., Shulman, E. P., & Cauffman, E. (2014). Interrogations, confessions, and guilty pleas among serious adolescent offenders. Law and Human Behavior, 38(2), 181–193.
McMullen, P. M. (2005). Questioning the questions: The impermissibility of police deception in interrogations of juveniles. Northwestern University Law Review, 99(2), 971–1006.
Moore, T. E., & Fitzsimmons, L. (2011). Justice imperiled: False confessions and the Reid Technique. Criminal Law Quarterly, 57(4), 509–542.
Owen-Kostelnik, J., Reppucci, N. D., & Meyer, J. R. (2006). Testimony and interrogation of minors. American Psychologist, 19.
Redlich, A. D., & Goodman, G. S. (2003). Taking responsibility for an act not committed: The influence of age and suggestibility. Law and Human Behavior, 27(2), 141–156. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1022543012851
Reid, J. E., & Inbau, F. E. (2000). The Reid technique of interviewing and interrogation. Chicago, IL: Reid Associates.
Vrij, A., Granhag, P. A., & Porter, S. (2010). Pitfalls and Opportunities in Nonverbal and Verbal Lie Detection. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 11(3), 89–121. https://doi.org/10.1177/1529100610390861