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Interrogation - Input Junkie
December 8th, 2013
09:11 am


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Interview about two methods of interrogation, an honest meticulous method and the method in common use in the US.

Douglas Starr compares the Reid technique with the PEACE technique.

Reid is a method of getting confessions-- once the police officer decides (on very little evidence) that the suspect is guilty and ignores all denials. If you suspect you are being subject to the Reid method, try arguing vociferously for an hour-- this may be taken as evidence of innocence. Reid uses people's impulse to be nice and cooperative against them. Reid gets false confessions.

Hundreds of thousands of people, worldwide, have been trained to use the Reid technique.

A major part of the Reid technique's reputation was based on getting what turned out to be a false confession.

There's a description of research which find that people (including police) are just plain bad at detecting lies-- and do worse if they focus on body language.

PEACE is a long, dull, open-ended cognitive grind-- an effort to elicit memories and find out whether the details make sense.

I get the impression that trained US military interrogators (not the folks at Abu Graib) use something of the sort.

It's tempting to me to hear about something like the Reid technique and then hate and despise everybody, but the truth is that suspicion of the Reid technique got started when a researcher noticed that confession was a common feature in convictions which got overturned, and scientists looked at it and found that its premises about lying and anxiety weren't sound. The British government developed the PEACE technique after a series of false confession cases. There has been institutional pushback against Reid.

After reading a lot about false confessions, I'd come to the conclusion that confession simply shouldn't be part of the judicial process. However, I also thought that the idea was so radical it couldn't get a hearing. It turns out that the British have given up on using confession-- it's physical evidence or nothing for them.

Unfortunately, the NPR transcript is just highlights, and the New Yorker article it's based on is behind a pay wall. I think hearing the whole interview is worth spending a half hour.

Two accounts of the police getting false confessions: American and Canadian

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[User Picture]
Date:December 9th, 2013 07:03 pm (UTC)
I no longer recall how it came up (some link to a book she was reading for school) but one of my students was simply boggled by the idea of anyone ever confessing to a crime s/he hadn't done. But it's actually pretty common, even with no persuasion/coercion at all, especially for famous crimes. And then add in persuasion/coercion!

I think that until recently, the law had to rely on confessions and eye-witness testimony (itself now exposed as notoriously unreliable) because the technology of physical evidence wasn't sophisticated enough. I'd guess that DNA testing was a big turning point. (In 1970, it was sheer luck that each member of MacDonald's family just happened to have a different blood type, making it possible to track individual movement; with DNA, that can be done anywhere.)

One problem with relying on physical evidence now is the jury, which may be inherently suspicious of science and/or unable to follow the processes and reasoning. I suppose if other kinds of evidence were ruled out & that became mainly what is left, the jury would have to adapt.
[User Picture]
Date:December 9th, 2013 08:12 pm (UTC)
One problem with relying on physical evidence now is the jury, which may be inherently suspicious of science and/or unable to follow the processes and reasoning.

Actually, lawyers are claiming the opposite: Police fiction, particularly TV shows in the CSI model, have made it hard to get a conviction that *doesn't* have 19 layers of expert testimony and a case without detailed forensics is unlikely to convince a jury.

(Personally, I think juries taking a harder look and demanding facts is a good thing - but not if they're demanding bad-tv-level IMPOSSIBLE evidence, so, yeah.)
[User Picture]
Date:December 9th, 2013 10:51 pm (UTC)
Thanks--I was going by stuff I read in the 1990s, before CSI in 2000.

Speaking of TV's influence on real courts, my sister-un-law, a lawyer, just hates judge/court shows like *The People's Court* because they convince people that the trial is an appropriate place to air unrelated dirty laundry about love spats.
[User Picture]
Date:December 9th, 2013 08:30 pm (UTC)
Actually, physical evidence isn't necessarily as reliable as one might hope.

It turned out that what were thought to be signs of arson actually occur in accidental fires* and that real world fingerprints** (which may be smudged or incomplete) aren't necessarily reliably matched with fingerprints collected under ideal conditions.

What's more, it's not certain that all fingerprints are unique. (This is the first I've heard that from a respectable source-- I'd seen it decades ago in L. Neil Smith, probably in _The Probability Broach.)

Corrupt forensics labs. I hear about the scandals, but I have no idea what the error rate is at honest, competent forensics labs.

I have no solutions, though I hope that the long slow grind of insisting on honest, conscientious investigation will help.

Juries trust experts too much. This isn't helped by policies (which I think are starting to change) against trial lawyers bringing up things like the problems with fingerprint evidence.

*Link includes overview of problems with other sorts of evidence, too.

**Also, identical snowflakes have been found. You can't trust anything.

Edited at 2013-12-09 09:09 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:December 9th, 2013 11:02 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure I see the point in testimony about problems with fingerprints (or any kind of evidence) in general, as opposed to indicating a weakness with the evidence or process in the specific investigation or relative merits of two conflicting kinds of evidence in a trial. If something makes errors, but it's generally reliable and is one of the best tools we have, seems to me that the only choice we have is just to go with it. One can hope for infallible techniques, but that's just not life.
[User Picture]
Date:December 10th, 2013 12:13 am (UTC)
I don't know whether you listened to the interview, but it points out the problem that people are likely to ignore all other sorts of evidence if there's a confession.

In the same way, if there's strong evidence of other sorts which contradicts fingerprint results, I think it's reasonable to point out that fingerprints have problems.
[User Picture]
Date:December 11th, 2013 12:56 am (UTC)
Although confessions aren't banned outright in US courts, the recognition that they can be problematic isn't new. That's why that thing about self-incrimination is in the Fifth Amendment, after all.

The *Cultic Studies Journal* once ran an article titled "False Confessions: The Logic of Seemingly Irrational Action," in which it was explained how commonly used interrogation techniques can induce some people to manufacture false memories and actually believe they've committed something of which they are innocent. You can get a reprint for a few dollars from the International Cultic Studies Association at www dot icsahome dot com.

Edited at 2013-12-11 12:58 am (UTC)
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