Understanding False Confessions: REID Part II, The Interrogation

“No! Please! I’ll tell you whatever you want to know!” the man yelled.

“Really?” said Vimes. “What’s the orbital velocity of the moon?”


“Oh, you’d like something simpler?”

Terry Pratchett, Night Watch

Winston Smith

In my previous post of this series, I covered the first half of the Reid Technique, the interview. The first two interviews, the rapport building and the Behavioral Analysis Interview (BAI) constitute two subsets of only one part of what is truly a two part system; the first being the interview stage and the second being the interrogation stage. In this post, we will delve into the interrogation and find out just how the Reid Technique will make you squeak.

Last time we focused on how the user of the Reid Technique comes to find someone guilty. It is important to note that when considering whether the investigator finds guilt, Reid clarifies that “the word ‘guilt’ as used in this text only signifies the interrogator’s opinion (Inbau et al 1986, 77).” As a result, the finding of guilt from the investigator should not indicate legal guilt that is based on the criminal standard of evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt (ibid). So right there we should stop and marvel at this. The technique that the CIA, DEA, FBI, Homeland Security, and multitudes of state police departments use to find out who is guilty of a crime is in large part based on the user of the technique’s own opinion of the matter, while the Technique itself should not be used to indicate legal culpability.

During the interrogation, the investigator has discretion on which type of interrogation to use on the suspect (Porter 2011, 46). The type of interrogation is decided on whether the suspect is designated as an emotional or non-emotional offender (ibid). This decision is made through the consideration of characteristics such as “the probable motivation for the crime; and the suspect’s initial responses to questioning (ibid).” What is also important to note is that as “a general rule, the majority of all offenders, emotional and nonemotional, possess emotional traits to some degree (Inbau et al 1986, 78).” As a result of the offenders possessing varying degrees of emotional traits, the interrogation styles that are used for each type of offender are best blended, but emphasis should on the interrogation style that is identified as most effective on the type of offender (ibid).

Emotional offenders are characterized in Reid as having a “troubled conscience” coupled with the tendency “to be more emotionally involved with the investigator’s words and actions (Porter 2011, 46).” The emotional offender will start to exhibit non-verbal cues such as “watery eyes and body posture will become less rigid and more open, without crossed arms and legs (Inbau et al 1986, 78).” As a result of the “troubled conscience” Reid states that the most effective interrogation tactic is based on the “sympathetic approach.” The sympathetic approach consists of “expressions of understanding and compassion with regard to the commission of the offense as well as the suspect’s present difficulty (Inbau et al 1986, 78).”

Non-emotional offenders are offenders who lack the “troubled conscience” of the emotional offenders (ibid). This does not mean that non-emotional offenders do not exhibit emotion, but they do so “to a lesser degree than that experienced by emotional offenders (ibid).” This type of offender is also characterized by “a defensive, closed posture, including crossed arms, erect head, and a cold, hard stare” in addition to the offender being “content to allow the interrogator to talk, but the words fall on seemingly deaf ears…(ibid).” The non-emotional offender “may offer token, unchallenging denials of guilt that are stopped easily (ibid).”  Inbau et al notes that “[a] remarkable characteristic of the nonemotional offender is a resistance to becoming emotionally involved in the interrogation (ibid).” Reid encourages the factual analysis approach for this type of offender as the most effective tactic (ibid). The factual analysis approach is built upon “appealing to the suspect’s common sense and reasoning rather than to his emotions (ibid).” What this interrogation type is intended to do is to convince the offender that guilt has already been established by the investigator and that the offender has “nothing else to do but to admit it (ibid).”

After deciding on the type of interrogation, Reid establishes nine general steps in which to interrogate the suspect. The nine steps are only used in interrogations of suspects “whose guilt seems definite or reasonably certain (ibid).” Reid claims that these steps are not “apt to make an innocent person confess and that all steps are legally as well as morally justifiable (ibid).” How comforting coming from a group whose goal is to develop a system that “works” and results in confession and conviction.

Inbau et al 1986 provides an analysis of the nine steps and this analysis will be coupled with example statements as applicable from Porter 2011 to show how each step is verbalized.

Step 1 consists of “a direct, positively presented confrontation of the suspect with a statement that he is considered to be the person who committed the offense (ibid).” An example of this type of statement would be:

Scott, the results of our investigation clearly indicate that you have not told the whole truth about the missing money. (Porter 2011, 50)

After giving this statement to the accused, the investigator must evaluate the response given and then repeat the statement for a second time (Inbau et al 1986, 79). Reid advises that the interviewer should change their tone and nature of the repetition based upon whether the offender was more or less positive in their refutation of the investigator’s claim (ibid). The response by the offender to the repeated question will be key in determining deception, as Reid claims that a passive response to the repeated question, and the initial question, is an indicator that the suspect is being deceptive (ibid). If the offender provides a positive refutation of the first question, Reid guides the investigator to reduce the tone and nature of the second accusation (ibid).

Step 2 is where “the interrogator expresses a supposition about the reason for the crime’s commission, whereby the suspect should be offered a possible moral excuse for having committed the offense (ibid).” The investigator does this by placing moral blame on any other person or circumstance that is related to the crime, such as the victim. An example of such a statement would be:

Scott, you have had a successful career as a Chartered Accountant. From everyone that I have spoken to, you are extremely hard working and perhaps are even underpaid for what you bring to this organization. It appears to me that you are intelligent, ambitious, and by and large an honest man. Times are tough these days, and I think that has what has led us to where we are today. (Porter 2011, 51)

Individuals who are seen to exhibiting supposed signs of guilt will deliberate for any amount of time before their response or by “listening attentively to the suggested ‘theme’ (Inbau et al 1986, 79).” If the offender reacts negatively to this type of statement Reid guides that this is a sign of innocence (ibid).

Reid states that any suspect, regardless of guilt, “will have denied guilt” up to this point (Inbau et al 1986, 79-80). As a result of this, Reid advises that the investigator cut off the offender’s continued denials of guilt and redirect them back towards the moral excuse given in the last step (Inbau et al 1986, 80). I mean, we wouldn’t want to inconvenience the police by stating what we believe to be true.


Step 4 is aimed at overcoming the suspect’s responses to the moral excuse question (ibid). These responses take general forms such as “explanations as to why the suspect did not or could not commit the crime (ibid).” Reid states that the types of explanations are generally only given by a guilty suspect (ibid). So just know even if you are innocent, they will believe the exact opposite, with seemingly no way to convince them. An example of an investigator overcoming these responses is:

Scott, please, let’s not go through these excuses, I understand that you are an honest guy. Let’s get back to why. Help me better understand the pressures you have been facing. (Porter 2011, 52)

The 5th Step “consists of the procurement and retention of the suspect’s full attention…(Inbau et al 1986, 80)” while step 6 focuses on the investigator recognizing when the suspect goes into their passive mood, which is the “state where the suspect is weighing the possible benefits of telling the truth (Inbau et al 1986, 80; Porter 2011, 54).” The passive mood can be identified when the suspect becomes quiet, listens to the investigator, avoids directly facing the investigator, or other non-verbal indicators that the suspect is “giving up (Inbau et al 1986, 80).”

Step 7 takes advantage of recognizing the suspect’s passive mood wherein the investigator asks the suspect an alternative question which is when the investigator gives the suspect a choice of an “acceptable” and “unacceptable” aspect of the crime under investigation (ibid). An example of such a questions is: “‘Was this the first time, or has it happened many times before (ibid)?’” What is important about this question is that regardless of what the suspect chooses, the answer will “be the functional equivalent of an incriminating admission (ibid).”

Step 8 has the investigator walk the suspect through the details of the crime under investigation (ibid). This is done as these details will “ultimately establish guilt” for the suspect (Inbau et al 1986, 81). These details are typically key to the offense such as “where the fatal weapon was discarded or where the stolen money was hidden” and can also include non-physical evidence such as motive (ibid).

Following the details, step 9 is where the investigator secures the confession by the suspect (ibid). Reid states that the goal of the interrogation is to have the suspect “tell the truth” about the incident they are being interrogated in relation to, rather than for the suspect to come to an understanding of what he or she did and take full responsibility for the action and its consequences on the suspect and society (Inbau et al 2001, 374). As a result, this step is to acquire the confession in a “court-admissible document” that will withstand legal challenges (ibid). This last step “involves the procedures and legal considerations of converting the oral confession into a written one (Inbau et al 2001, 375).”


The next post in this series will consist of the criticisms of the Reid Technique from the BAI to the interrogation and how the Reid Technique feeds into false confessions.

Photo Credit: “Knock on Any Door” Columbia Pictures/Photofest

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