Examine Police Interrogation Techniques Within the U.S Research Paper

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Police Interrogation Techniques Within the United States

Most Americans never become caught up in the criminal justice system, but for those that do, there are important constitutional guarantees in place to protect their rights during interrogation. The stereotypical images of the "good cop-bad cop" and "just beat it out of them" approaches to police interrogation may still be practiced in some parts of the country or from time to time anywhere, but the former is frequently ineffective and the latter is fundamentally unconstitutional and illegal. Therefore, identifying current police interrogation techniques represents a timely and valuable enterprise. To determine current practice and trends in this area, the purpose of this paper was to examine current police interrogation techniques within the United States. A summary of the research and important findings in this area are presented in the conclusion.

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The definition of interrogation provided by Black's Law Dictionary (1991) includes a specific reference to its law enforcement applications and what is basically involved in the process. According to Black's Law Dictionary, in criminal law, interrogation is "the process of questions propounded by police to person arrested or suspected to seek solution of crime. Such person is entitled to be informed of his rights, including right to have counsel present, and the consequences of his answers" (p. 818). Opinions concerning what type of interrogation technique is best suited to a given situation depend on the circumstances and the authority that is involved. For instance, the U.S. military has a significantly different set of rules that are used for interrogation. In this regard, McDonald (1993) states in the U.S. military: "Interrogators break down resistance and denials by inducing debilitation and exhaustion: If you have subjects under your total physical control, you can wear them down and make them easier to exploit and more compliant. One of the simplest methods to debilitate people physically is to severely limit their food intake or intermittently refuse them food altogether" (p. 44).

Notwithstanding the potential effectiveness of these techniques, their legality -- even in the military, though, is questionable (Gudjonsson, 2003). Furthermore, the Supreme Court's precedential decision in Miranda v. Arizona (383 U.S. 436, 1966) acknowledged that the interrogation techniques used by police officers can be sufficiently stressful to most suspects from the outset that it impairs their constitutional ability to exercise their judgment and protect their legal rights (Gudjonsson, 2003). In this regard, Blackman (2011) reports that, "Following Miranda v. Arizona, longstanding police interrogation techniques that violated the Constitution were not upheld" (p. 952).

Consequently, law enforcement manuals on suspect interrogation currently tend to advocate influence and persuasion over force and fear (Gudjonsson, 2003). In this regard, Feld (2006) reports that, "Interrogation manuals and training programs teach police to use psychological tactics and strategies to heighten suspects' stress and anxiety and to manipulate their vulnerabilities to obtain confessions" (p. 220). Identifying a chink in the bad guys' armor and exploiting it to gain a psychological advantage that leads to confession is therefore an essential element involved in most current police interrogation methods in the United States. For instance, according to Gudjonsson (2003), "This reliance on persuasion is inevitable in view of the reluctance of many suspects to admit to their crimes or certain aspects of their crimes" (p. 27).

These types of persuasive police interrogation techniques can incorporate strategies of deception as well, including the following:

1. Police officers concealing their identity while trying to obtain a confession (e.g. pretending to be a fellow prison inmate, befriending a person under false pretences, posing as a criminal). Such undercover operations are practiced in the United States, as well as Canada and Britain.

2. During interrogation the police may misrepresent the nature or seriousness of the offence (e.g. In a murder case by lying to the suspect that the victim is still alive and may talk, or implying that the death must have been an accident or unpremeditated).

3. Employing trickery is the most common police deception during interrogation. This typically involves presenting the suspect with false evidence of guilt (e.g. falsely claiming that a co-defendant has confessed, exaggerating the strength of evidence against the suspect, falsely claiming that the police are in possession of forensic or eyewitness evidence that indicates the suspect's guilt or lying about the results from a polygraph test) (Gudjonsson, 2003)..

While some observers might question the ethical aspects of "tricking" suspects into cooperating with law enforcement authorities, the adversarial nature of the criminal justice system virtually ensures that some type of deception must be used during interrogation. For example, Feld (2006) points out that, "That is the essence of interrogation, and those who believe that a straightforward conversation between a cop and a criminal -- devoid of any treachery -- is going to solve a crime are somewhere beyond naive" (p. 219). This essential element of police interrogation techniques is also mentioned by Fridell (2006) who reports that in general, "[the basic attitude of the police] is one of getting the subject to confess despite himself -- by trapping him into it, by deceiving him, or by more direct means of [breaking down] his will" (p. 63). In reality, then, current police interrogation techniques are designed to conform to constitutional protections and provide a due process framework that will withstand legal challenges while engaging in a "battle of the wits" with criminal defendants or suspects who are aggressively fighting back during the process to in order to stay out of prison. These trends have important implications for law enforcement authorities and professional practice, and these issues are discussed further below.

Applications to Law Enforcement Careers and Professional Practice

The effectiveness of persuasive interrogation techniques that incorporate elements of deception is well documented in a wide range of settings, including its suitability for law enforcement applications when applied appropriately. In this regard, Gudjonsson emphasizes that, "Persuasion in the context of interrogation is the process of convincing suspects that their best interests are served by their making a confession" (2003, p. 27). As noted above, criminal suspects or defendants are entitled to be informed of their rights and the implications of their answers during interrogations but these rights may be ignored, abused or due process is otherwise subverted by the level of deception or other inappropriate interrogation method used by police. It is certainly one thing to counsel criminal suspects or defendants to confess because it is in their best interests, but it is quite another to do so because it is in the police's best interests -- even though the two may actually be the same. For example, a drug addict who became actively involved in distribution might well be saved from death by being incarcerated and detoxified, making confession in his or her best interest in ways that align with law enforcement's goals as well, but using inappropriate, duplicitous and deceptive interrogation methods to wring a confession from innocent-until-proven-guilty and exhausted American citizens is no way to do business in the 21st century. Indeed, Feld emphasizes that:

1. Most people would regard as reprehensible some of the deceptive techniques that police routinely use if employed by their acquaintances in everyday life;

2. Misrepresenting facts, presenting false evidence, lying, and deceit are part and parcel of the interrogation process;

3. A suspect's self-incriminating statement leads almost ineluctably to a plea or conviction.

4. A relationship exists between certain types of interrogation tactics, false confessions, and wrongful convictions;

5. Cases abound of innocent people who are wrongly convicted based solely on false confessions of dubious reliability; and,

6. Aggressive or manipulative techniques may be especially dangerous when police employ them with vulnerable suspects, such as those with mental retardation or juveniles (2006, p. 220).

Although it is reasonable to suggest that experienced career criminals… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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