The Reid Technique and Law Enforcement Interrogations of Juveniles

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).

Conclusion

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.

References

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

The whitewashing of prosecutorial misconduct

By Jennifer Kamorowski

Lately I have been reading about wrongful convictions and prosecutorial misconduct. Many commentators on the topic have talked about the incentives for prosecutors to engage in lying and cover-ups despite knowing full well that they are sending an innocent person to be punished, or worse, to be executed. The focus of these commentators is often on the design of the institutions of the criminal justice system that encourage such behavior. But the thing I can’t get around is the question, “How far?” How far is a person willing to go to win? How far is a prosecutor willing to go to justify the killing of an innocent person? How far removed does one have to be not to feel morally responsible for death?

Many have heard about the trolley dilemma – this is the scenario in which if a lever is pulled to change the tracks, one person will be killed but five will be saved. Most people say they would pull the lever and so one person dies rather than five. The other scenario is usually one in which people are asked to push a person in front of the train to save five people. For most people, there is a difference between pulling a lever that causes a person’s death, and actually pushing a person in front of the train. At least in part, the difference in responses (although the end result is the same) comes from being physically removed from consequences of one’s decision – that is, pulling a lever or pushing a person. However, there is also the “for the greater good” argument that killing one to save five is justified. The person we are talking about now is the one who put the innocent person on the tracks, started the train in motion, and then refuses to stop it. I argue that the person in this scenario is not the same person who pulls a lever to kill one and save five; nor is this the one who is willing to push someone in front of a train to save five people. There are no five people to be saved, no “greater good” at stake – only one person who is about to be run over.

Prosecutorial misconduct is an antiseptic term for prosecutors who cheat the system by lying and concealing evidence that suggests an accused person is innocent, and/or presenting evidence they know to be false, the end result of which is to get a conviction of an innocent person. Keep in mind that there are usually co-conspirators in this effort – other prosecutors who know the game, police who lie or cover up evidence, judges who decide that evidence of innocence is not admissible at trial. Peter A. Joy in writing about prosecutorial misconduct argues that this behavior is “not chiefly the result of isolated instances of unprincipled choices or the failure of character on the part of some prosecutors” – he’s right. Because these cases are not the result of unprincipled choices or failures of character on the part of one person; most often these miscarriages of justice are the result of the unprincipled choices and failures of character by at least several people.

Alfred Dewayne Brown has been in the news recently because his case is one of the latest examples in which the prosecutor lied and withheld evidence that cast serious doubt on Brown’s guilt. Brown spent 12 years in prison, 10 of which he spent on death row before he was released in 2015. Brown was identified as one of three suspects who, in the course of a robbery of a check cashing store in 2003 killed a Houston police officer, Charles L. Clark, and Alfredia Jones, the store clerk. Brown claimed he was at his girlfriend’s house and was not involved in the robbery and murders. Brown’s alibi rested on the fact that he made two calls to his girlfriend’s place of employment from the landline in her apartment. An investigator notified the prosecutor, Dan Rizzo, in an e-mail in 2003 that phone records confirmed the two calls Brown claimed he made. This evidence was required to be turned over to Brown’s defense attorneys under the Brady rule (Brady v. Maryland (1963), 373 U.S. 83). The Brady rule requires that prosecutors turn over any evidence that might be favorable to the accused in terms of a conviction or sentence. Certainly the phone records establishing Brown’s alibi were material to Brown’s case.

But Rizzo did not turn the records over to the defense. Worse yet, in 2008, Rizzo claimed under oath that he did not withhold the phone records. Then, an e-mail released by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office on March 2 of this year established the fact that a detective told Rizzo about the phone records in 2003, well before Brown’s trial. So in 2003, a police detective and Dan Rizzo knew about the phone records – and did not turn them over. In 2008, Dan Rizzo lied about the fact that he knew about the phone records. And now, 15 years later, it appears that there will be investigations into Rizzo’s other cases to determine whether there were other violations of the Brady rule. Despite all of this, some of Rizzo’s former colleagues defended him by saying he is a “good man” who “missed some details.” Another retired prosecutor said, “I will never believe that Dan Rizzo would ever intentionally violate the Brady rule, that he would intentionally hide evidence.”

Is it really so unbelievable that a prosecutor would lie and hide evidence? If one simply looks at the facts: 1) Rizzo knew about the phone records before Brown’s trial and did not turn them over to the defense; and 2) Rizzo lied under oath about his knowledge of the phone records. The evidence of Rizzo’s malfeasance is in writing – he was told about the phone records in an e-mail in 2003. But Rizzo made a conscious decision not to turn that evidence over. He didn’t just “forget” there was evidence to corroborate Alfred Dewayne Brown’s alibi. He chose to bury that evidence and proceeded to get an innocent man convicted and sentenced to death. I can’t get around the question – how does someone get up every day and look themselves in the face knowing that they are responsible for an innocent person undergoing the psychological torture that is life on death row? Knowing he is responsible for the pending execution of an innocent man? Is prosecuting crime so far removed from the reality of creating more victims that Dan Rizzo never seemed to have a twinge of conscience about what he had done?

Beyond the personal responsibility of Rizzo, there is also evidence that the grand jury in the case, led by a Houston police officer, pressured Brown’s girlfriend, Ericka Dockery into changing her testimony by threatening to charge her with perjury and have her children taken away. Dockery was charged with perjury and held in jail for seven weeks before agreeing to plead guilty and testify against Brown at trial. Transcripts of the grand jury hearing corroborate Dockery’s claim that she was badgered and threatened by Dan Rizzo into changing her story, which corroborated Brown’s alibi. The transcripts also show how the Houston police officer who was the foreman of the grand jury and Dan Rizzo worked in tandem to intimidate Dockery into giving the testimony they wanted. Every person on the grand jury witnessed this behavior and what went on in that room – yet not one of them came forward to report what happened. The wrongful conviction of Alfred Wayne Brown was not simply the result of one bad actor – it was the result of the willingness of other witnesses to the misconduct to go along with the behavior.

How common is prosecutorial misconduct in homicide cases? In 1999, Ken Armstrong and Maurice Possley published a 5-part series in the Chicago Tribune in which they reported on homicide cases that were overturned because of prosecutorial misconduct. They found that over the course of 36 years, 381 defendants had their homicide convictions reversed due to prosecutorial misconduct. Sixty-seven of those people had been sentenced to death. In 2003, the Center for Public Integrity reported that out of 11,452 cases of alleged prosecutorial misconduct between 1970 and 2003, 2,012 resulted in dismissed charges, reversed convictions, or reduced sentences. That amounts to substantiation of misconduct in approximately 1 out of 6 cases in which misconduct is alleged. In reality, those 11,452 cases likely represent the tip of the iceberg – cases in which the misconduct was egregious and obvious enough that a remedy was pursued. What we don’t know are how many cases there are in which prosecutorial misconduct occurs but cannot be sufficiently substantiated. Many cases, like Alfred Dewayne Brown’s, only come to light many years later.

In another case, Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez were convicted in DuPage County, Illinois for the rape and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico in 1983. Both men were sentenced to death. Shortly after the trial, a man named Brian Dugan confessed to raping and killing Jeanine, as well as two other rape-murders and three rapes. There was extensive corroborating evidence to support Dugan’s claim that he was responsible for the crime. The Illinois Supreme Court overturned the convictions of Cruz and Hernandez, but prosecutors retried Cruz and Hernandez, and again won convictions. Why? Because the evidence of Dugan’s confession was held inadmissible by the trial judge. After four years of litigating the case, the Illinois Supreme Court again reversed the conviction of Cruz. But prosecutors again brought charges against Cruz despite the fact that advanced DNA methods conclusively excluded Cruz as being involved in the rape and murder. Eventually, a grand jury indicted four sheriff’s deputies and three former prosecutors on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Not attempted murder – but lying and interfering with the justice system. Each and every one was acquitted.

In one way, Peter A. Joy is right when he says that prosecutorial misconduct is not chiefly the result some prosecutors making “unprincipled choices” or having a “failure of character.” Rather, it is because the people around these prosecutors either actively collude with them in securing a wrongful conviction of an innocent person, or they sit passively by as an innocent person is railroaded into being convicted for a crime he or she didn’t commit. This is not to say that every prosecutor engages in misconduct, but when they do, according to Ken Armstrong and Maurice Possley, “They do it to win. They do it because they won’t get punished.”

But I think there is something deeper that is behind it than the institutional pressures and the lack of punishment for misconduct by either prosecutors or police. Not only does convicting the wrong person leave the true perpetrator free to commit another crime – but an innocent person is also being punished for what he or she did not do. And worse yet, when an innocent person is knowingly sent to death row to be executed, it’s not just trying to maintain a winning record, or doing it because they can. There is willful and intentional action taken to kill an innocent person. Perhaps like the guards putting Jewish people into trains that would travel to Auschwitz, Sobibor, and Treblinka, prosecutors can somehow reason that they are not responsible for the fate that awaits those who are unable to escape the heavy hand of the government. Calling these cases of prosecutorial misconduct creates the distance that allows these crimes to be whitewashed. What they really are are cases of conspiracy to commit premeditated murder.

Reference:

Joy, P. A. (2006). The relationship between prosecutorial misconduct and wrongful convictions: Shaping remedies for a broken system. Wisconsin Law Review 2006(2), 399-429.