Interrogative Specialists and False Confessions: Debunking the Con Artist Myth
Within the criminal justice system, confessions are an extremely powerful form of evidence. Unfortunately, innocent people sometimes falsely confess to crimes they did not actually commit. Such travesties of justice have sparked a significant degree of academic research into the false confession phenomenon. Within the existing literature, there exists a conceptual framework that the interrogative methods and actions of law enforcement officers are a key cause of false confessions with some researchers going so far as to suggest that law enforcement interrogators act as confidence men who trick criminal subjects into confessing. However, few researchers have actually questioned law enforcement officers about false confessions and even fewer have consulted with officers who specialize in interrogation. This study is a subset of a larger qualitative case study designed to explore the experiences of 13 federal law enforcement polygraph examiners who specialize in interrogation regarding their approach to criminal interrogation and their experiences with both true and false confessions. This study focused on the personal processes federal law enforcement polygraph examiners use in reviewing Miranda rights and documenting confessions. NVivo software was used to organize the data. Common themes in interview responses were then identified and revealed that participants employ an open, detailed, and straightforward approach in reviewing Miranda rights and documenting the confessions of criminal subjects. These findings contradict the premise that law enforcement interrogators inherently operate as confidence men by tricking and manipulating criminal subjects.
KeywordsFalse confessions Interrogation Interrogative techniques Confession Polygraph
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
- Ainsworth PB (2002) Psychology and policing. Willan Publishing, Portland, ORGoogle Scholar
- Brandl SG (2014) Criminal investigation. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CAGoogle Scholar
- Bull R, Soukara S (2009) Four studies of what really happens in police interviews. In: Lassiter GD, Meissner C (eds) Police interrogations and confessions: current research, practice and policy recommendations. American Psychological Association, Washington, DC, pp 249–263Google Scholar
- Drizin S, Colgan B (2004) Tales from the juvenile confession front: a guide to how standard police interrogation tactics can produce coerced and false confessions from juvenile suspects. In: Lassiter GD (ed) Interrogations, confessions, and entrapment. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New YorkGoogle Scholar
- Drizin SA, Leo RA (2004) The problem of false confession in the post-DNA world. North Carolina Law Review 82:891–1007Google Scholar
- Forrest KD, Woody WD, Brady SE, Batterman KC, Stastny BJ, Bruns JA (2012) False-evidence ploys and interrogations: mock jurors’ perceptions of false-evidence ploy type, deception, coercion, and justification. Behavioral Sciences and the Law 30:342–264. https://doi.org/10.1002/bsl.1999 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Innocence Project. (2016) The causes of wrongful conviction. Retrieved from http://www.innocenceproject.org/causes-wrongful-conviction
- John Reid and Associates (2015). Interviewing vs. interrogation. Retrieved from http://policetraining.net/blog/2012/04/18/interviewing-interrogation/
- Kassin, S. M., & Fong, C. T. (1999). “I’m innocent!”: effects of training on judgments of truth and deception in the interrogation room. Law Hum Behav, 23(5), 499–516Google Scholar
- Kassin SM, Kiechel KL (1996) The social psychology of false confessions: compliance, internalization, and confabulation. Psychol Sci 7:125–128. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.1996.tb00344.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Kassin, S. M., & McNall, K. (1991). Police interrogations and confessions: communicating promises and threats by pragmatic implication. Law Hum Behav, 15, 233–251.Google Scholar
- Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 336Google Scholar
- Meissner, C. A., & Kassin, S. M. (2002). He’s guilty!: investigator bias in judgments of truth and deception. Law Hum Behav, 26, 469–480. doi: 0147-7307/02/1000-0469/1Google Scholar
- Newring KAB, O’Donohue W (2008) False confessions and influenced witnesses. Applied Psychology in Criminal Justice 4(1):81–107Google Scholar
- Ofshe RJ, Leo RA (1997) The decision to confess falsely: rational choice and irrational action. Denver University Law Review 74:979–1122Google Scholar