Understanding False Confessions: REID Part I

“I get it,’ said the prisoner. ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop, eh?’

If you like.’ said Vimes. ‘But we’re a bit short staffed here, so if I give you a cigarette would you mind kicking yourself in the teeth?”

– Terry Pratchett, Night Watch

By Winston Smith

When you get interviewed/interrogated by the police, there will be a large likelihood that you will undergo the REID Interview and Interrogation Technique. As written in my earlier post the John E. Reid and Associates Inc. now boasts that the Reid technique “is now the most widely used approach to question subjects in the world.” The John E. Reid and Associates Inc. lists groups such as the CIA, DEA, FBI, Homeland Security, and this writer’s own Maryland State Police as their clients.

Now with all of these high-profile clients this technique has to be the top of the line right? Well, let’s take a looksee at what this technique really holds in store for those subjected to it.

The REID technique consists of a two-step interview process which is then followed up by an interrogation designed to elicit a confession. Now if you’ve been brought in by police that use the REID technique, they’ll probably begin by asking you rapport building questions, asking you about shared characteristics or information about your background (Porter 2011, 33). This seems harmless enough BUT, dear reader, don’t be fooled about them talking about a shared college bar, they don’t care that you got the top score in Big Buck Hunter, this rapport building stage allows the interviewer to ask suspect fact-finding questions and through these questions the investigator is able to determine your typical behavior (ibid). These fact finding questions allow the interviewer to find what we all think they’d look for, “the subject’s motive and opportunity to commit the offence” and when these questions are asked during this non-accusatory interview, “[t]he suspect is more apt to volunteer information when asked… (ibid).” The second, and arguably more important and devious, purpose is to determine your behavior as determining your behavior now makes it “easier to detect deception when the investigator understands how the suspect typically responds to non-threatening questions (ibid).” This behavior analyzing interview is, as you guessed, the Behavioral Analysis Interview (BAI).

The BAI is a technique where police ask a suspect non-accusatory questions and during their questioning, “observe the suspect for verbal and non-verbal behavioral symptoms of deception (Kassin et al 2009, 2).”  The BAI is the time during the interview phase of Reid in which the interviewer can determine whether he or she is “‘reasonably certain’ or ‘definite’ of the suspect’s guilt (Porter 2011, 34).” If the interviewer is convinced that the suspect is guilty, the interviewer then proceeds to an interrogation to determine the truth of the matter (ibid).

This interview has three key elements:

  1. Observation and evaluation of verbal and non-verbal indicators;
  2. Behavior provoking questions; and
  3. Specialized questioning.

The BAI system is fundamentally based on a series of 15 questions that anticipates each of these questions will be given different responses if the suspect is a truth-teller or a liar (Vrij et al 2006, 330). What this means is that the interviewer is trying to find out if you are a good ol’ boy or a stone cold liar. To do this, these questions are supposed to “evoke behavioral responses to detect lying (ibid).”  These responses are either verbal or non-verbal and the 15 questions are “intended to evoke differences between truth-tellers and liars in both their non-verbal and verbal responses (ibid).”

So now you’re probably asking what some of these liar attributes are. Well, have you ever responded to questions with answers such as “Uh, huh” or shaking your head? Well, I hate to be the one to break it to you but you’re a liar (Porter 2011, 34). In addition to this, Reid identifies that comments which are used to bolster statements (including, “As God as my witness,” “I swear,” “On my mother’s grave,” and “Honestly,”) are typically used by deceptive subjects (Porter 2011, 35-36). So leave your mother out of this.

Reid also emphasizes the importance of non-verbal indicators, because “as much as 70% of a message communicated between persons occurs at the nonverbal level (Porter 2011, 36).” So it’s not really what you say, but how you say it. Think you’d have better luck with non-verbal indicators? Here are five non-verbal indicators that Reid identifies in its training:

  1.  Lack of eye-contact – generally speaking, a suspect who does not make direct eye contact is probably being deceptive;
  2.  Deceptive Posture – such as slouching, non-frontal alignment, deceptive barriers.
  3.  Touching – of his or her nose, ears, or lips;
  4.  Shuffling of the feet or hiding the feet by pulling them under the chair; and
  5.  Placing the hands over the mouth or eyes.

So when you’re being interviewed by the police try to not be nervous like any human would be because then you’re obviously a liar. LIAR.

Now here’s a good point to note that Reid provides no empirical data to support the claims made in its recommendations, but “the method advocates that these are tools that the investigator should consider in evaluating deceptive subjects (ibid).” The underlying assumption of this style of interviewing is that truth-tellers and liars will provide different answers to the same questions (Vrij et al 2006, 330). In other words, “truthful subjects respond to questions directly, whereas deceptive subjects tend to answer evasively (Porter 2011, 34).” What is also believed is that suspects that are liars will tend to feel less comfortable in an interview situation than their fellow truth-tellers (Vrij et al 2006, 330). This comfort can be expressed in non-verbal ways, such as body language. Those who are being interrogated by police and are guilty “are more likely to cross their legs, shift in their chair, and perform grooming behaviors while answering the guilt question (ibid).” In contrast to this, those who are innocent “are more likely to lean forward, establish eye contact and use illustrators to reinforce the confidence of their statements (ibid).”

The BAI also makes the use of, and is encouraged to use, specialized questioning which can include “assumptive questioning and trapping the subject in deceit (Porter 2011, 45).” Now the Reid states that these types of questions should not be used for court purposes because;

“This practice may invite a defence attorney to ask the investigator to explain exactly why he classified each response as he did, to explain the research findings supporting his classification, and to comment on the differential diagnosis of the response. This type of testimony is best left for an expert in behaviour analysis. (Porter 2011, 45)”

So I hope everyone’s BS detectors just went off the charts, if it hasn’t already. Reid won’t stand by questions it encourages its users to use in court because it recognizes that it’s all based on some vague feeling the interviewer gets when asking about the suspects favorite ice cream but it’s fine for the interviewer to use to determine if you’re guilty or not. So if you want to get a taste of some of these questions, Virj et al 2006 provides a sample of questions that would be used when investigating the theft of money from a wallet. Here is a selection of these questions:

Q2. guilt. Did you take the money?

Q9. think. Have you ever just thought about doing something like taking the money from a wallet that is just lying around?

Q13. objection. Tell me what would you stop from taking the money?

Q14. results. Once we completed our investigation, what do you think the results will be in respect to your involvement in taking the money?

Q16. bait. There is a CCTV system working in that room and we can get access to the tapes. If we look at those tapes, is there any reason that we will see you taking £10 out of the wallet? I am not saying that we will see you taking the money, I just want to know your views about what the likelihood of this might be?

(Virj et al 2006, 343-344)

The way in which these questions are verbally answered is also important as “interviewees’ answers will reflect their different attitudes towards the investigation (Virj et al 2006, 330).”  Those who are identified as liars by the investigator are assumed to exhibit specific behaviors such as not showing what is thought to be appropriate concern in their identification as a suspect and they are assumed to “be less helpful in the interview (ibid).” In contrast to the investigator identified liars, the truth-tellers exhibit characteristics such as “an expectancy to be exonerated” and will be more willing to provide helpful information (ibid). Here’s how the difference manifests from some of the selected questions:

  •  “less emphatic in their denial of having committed the crime” when answering Question 2.
  • “more likely to admit to having thought about committing a crime similar to that under investigation” when answering  Question 9 as “guilty suspects will have an internal need to talk about their crimes in order to relieve anxiety, while at the same time escaping the consequences).”
  •  more likely to answer Question 13 using the third person. (Vrij et al 2006, 331)

So while I’m a jaded man who is trying to make you lose faith in the system, the BAI system seems to work pretty well. A study conducted by Inbau et al (2001) concluded that “investigators who are trained in the BAI can achieve extraordinarily high accuracy rates at making deception judgements that can be used to distinguish between perpetrators and innocent suspects (Kassin et al 2009, 2).” Also in Inbau et al’s 2001 work, the authors state that “research has demonstrated that innocent and guilty interviewees do respond different to the BAI set of questions, but they do not give further details about this research (Vrij et al 2006, 331).”

At the end of the interview, “if the investigator believes the suspect has committed the offence, then an interrogation commences (Porter 2011, 46).” The overview of the interrogation will take place in the next part of this series so stay tuned!

Photo Credit: The Law Office of Robbi Abrams Cook

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