Term Paper: Deception in the Investigative Interrogative and Testimonial Process

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Deception in Police Investigation

Deception in the Justice System

Police are taught that the stance taken in an investigation is "non-accusatory," while interrogation is "accusatory." Yet, when a suspect is investigated through a formal interview the police are taught to take notes from the beginning because "when faced with silence between each question and given time to think about his deceptive response, the deceptive subject experiences greater anxiety and is more likely to display behavior symptoms of deception." There is no description of the responses for the innocent subject who is being questioned except to note that "an innocent suspect may become confused or flustered when a rapid-fire approach... is used" (Inbau, p. 7).

Interrogation is described from the outset as "accusatory." The authors state that "deceptive suspects are not likely to offer admissions against self-interest unless they are convinced that the investigator is certain of their guilt." The authors go on to describe how the officer is to describe how much they believe the suspect is guilty, until the suspect loses confidence and becomes convinced that they are found out. The process is described in detail, with the preliminary tactic being that the investigator will "make statements, rather than ask questions. These tactics will also dominate the conversation; for someone to be persuaded to tell the truth that person must first be willing to listen to the investigator's statements." Note-taking is forbidden during an interrogation because it may inhibit the suspect's willingness to make statements against self-interest. However, "after the suspect has fully confessed... should written notes be made documenting the details of the confession" (Inbau, p. 9).

Richard Conti points out that confessions are powerful predicators of conviction. He says that this is possibly because the reason for the confession is usually attributed to being internal, when it may actually be the cause of situational factors, such as coercion. He questions as to whether or not confessions may be considered authentic as "police interrogations are conducted in secrecy and they are usually not recorded,.. law enforcement agencies do not keep records on the number of interrogations conducted and... It is difficult to establish what actually occurred to elicit a confession, especially if the confession resulted in a conviction" (Conti, p. 16).

In the manual, the advice given to police who interrogate suspects at the scene of the crime is biased toward guilt, in that a policeman is deliberately advised to say, when a suspect driving a stolen vehicle that has been pulled over waives his Miranda rights, "We know you took this car. Did you take it just for a joy ride or were you going to use it as a get-away car for a robbery?" (Inbau, p. 10).

Ralph Underwager and Hollida Wakefield have acknowledged that though a confession may solve more than 80% of cases, and a non-voluntary confession is the most influential evidence in a jury trial (usually elicited by subtle interrogation, rather than physical coercion these days), judges still tend to exclude confessions where there is coercion because of the possibility of deception. The deception, it appears, may be on the part of the police who are eliciting the confession. Judges have no way of knowing whether coercion is blatant and direct or subtle (para. A6).

The U.S. Army handbook on prisoner interrogation agrees that human intelligence (or information gained from interrogation of prisoners) "is the most valuable of all collection operations." It cites figures from 54 divisions, and concludes that 43% of all intelligence produced in the European theater during WWII was from human intelligence and 84% of that was from interrogation (Department, p. 3).

In Gudjonsson's book, Psychology of Interrogations and Confessions: A Handbook, the use by interrogators of acquiescence, compliance, and suggestibility are examined in detail. Police interrogation has been analyzed by psychologists and sociologists in many studies and there are certain conclusions that they bring to the fore. First of all, interrogation is highly stressful (especially for the suspect). Many of the methods used by police to elicit confessions create a "wide range of behavioral and physiological disturbances" on the part of the suspect, "including inability to discern reality" (Gudjonsson, p 104), trance-like states where truth and falsehood become confused and the suspect begins to "obey" instructions and suggestions ordinarily rejected. In this upsetting and highly stressful atmosphere, the ability to elicit a voluntary confession may be undermined and the true story may be lost (Underwager, para. B1-6).

Not only is deception used by police in eliciting confessions, but it is used sometimes in testimony by police in court, to "fluff up" evidence to ensure conviction of a suspect that an officer believes is guilty. Forensic evidence notwithstanding, police testimonies which are outright lies on the witness stand have been listed as major factors in wrongful convictions. Even when there is forensic evidence, such as DNA results, it has been shown that in some cases this evidence has been suppressed while witnesses were suborned and committed perjury. Even lineups were found to be rigged so that the person the police believe is guilty appears the most plausible choice (Barker 61).

Unfortunately, though police tend to have their opinions on who is guilty and who is not, the Police manual on Criminal Interrogation and Confessions assists and encourages them in this process. Along with the widespread belief by police that police work by the book is impossible, police are encouraged to use their own convictions as to who is guilty and who is not. The result is, though it is clear that lying is illegal and certainly not permitted in court, police do lie under oath and commit perjury regularly (Underwager, para. D3).

Robert Panzarella has found that while deception tactics are commonly used in police work (here he cites "sting" operations for catching burglars and drug runners, alluding to people who were not present during criminal activities in interrogations, and "abscam" operations), that courts have allowed these irregular practices believing that such deception on the part of police has remained outside of the courtroom. However, because of such highly used and reported tactics, the credibility of police testimony in court has been negatively affected. Panzarella suggests that guidelines for use of deceptive tactics be drawn up by police in the United States and England, to avoid endangering the reputation of police testimony in court (p. 133).

The main purpose, it appears, of investigation and interrogation by police, according to Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, is to elicit a confession. Nowhere in the book are alternatives suggested and no scientific support for the results of these methods is put forth. As a matter of fact, the bias which is evident almost from the first page of the manual is one of disregard of the suspect and disallowing of any systematic process whereby a suspect may be allowed to escape from a full confession of the crime they are being held for.

Polygraph results, overwhelming the suspect with negative evidence and suggesting it would be easier on everyone if he/she confessed along with psychological coercion (such as "proving" to a witness that a key character said it would be all right if they confessed with letters, phone calls, etc.) are highly successful coercion tactics that are deceptive and therefore deny the truth.

As Gudjonsson says in his book, the Reid method's (as used in Criminal Investigation and Interrogations) "recommended tactics and techniques do involve trickery and deceit. It is an essential part of the Reid Technique" of breaking down resistance of reluctant suspects and making them confess. He goes on to say that two of the authors of the police handbook believe trickery and deceit are not only justified, but are "absolutely essential in discovering the facts." He decries the fact that although they profess to disapprove the use of promises of leniency, force and threats, that these are exactly what their techniques make use of. (Gudjonsson, p. 10).

Even innocent victims may come under harsh fire on the part of police who question them. For instance, the manual offers the following advice when questioning a rape victim:

Where circumstances permit, the suggestion might be offered that the rape victim had acted like she might have been a prostitute and that the suspect had assumed she was a willing partner. In fact, the interrogator may even say that the police knew she had engaged in prostitution on other occasions... (Inbau, p. 109).

For law officials to feel it is necessary to make use of tactics and techniques of eliciting confessions that put them on a lower moral plane than ordinary, law-abiding and ethical citizens in every day life is quite disheartening. When police state that they feel it is necessary to use force, deception and threats, it is even more discouraging to the general public, who expect their law enforcement officers to act in accordance with the laws themselves.

Richard a. Leo's article in Crime, Law and Social Change quotes the allegations by well-known experts that the police themselves are mere bullies, that… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Deception in the Investigative Interrogative and Testimonial Process."  Essaytown.com.  November 26, 2007.  Accessed October 24, 2019.
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