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Understanding the Reid Technique in Police Interrogations

Nine Steps to a Possible False Confession

The Reid Technique is a notorious interview and interrogation method used by police officers and investigators. It consists of three elements, with the last one having nine questionable components. Many critics of the Reid Technique claim it manipulates and coerces suspects into making false confessions, which is why our Milwaukee criminal defense lawyer believes everyone should be aware of the Reid Technique to best avoid self-incriminating themselves.

So, who’s the mastermind behind this?

John E. Reid invented the Reid Technique as an alternative to using polygraphs, commonly referred to as lie detector tests. He played a significant role in developing and enhancing the polygraph technique, but Mr. Reid took it a step further and devised his own system — the “Reid Technique of interviewing and interrogation.” Ironically, Mr. Reid’s intention was to eliminate the chances of a person making false confessions by avoiding intimidation and coercion. But suspects and critics argue otherwise.

As such, let’s review the components of the infamous Reid Technique:

Factual analysis: This is described as “an inductive approach where each individual suspect is evaluated with respect to specific observations relating to the crime … [it] relies not only on crime scene analysis, but also on information learned about each suspect.” The goal of factual analysis is to:

  • Eliminate improbable suspects
  • Develop possible suspects or leads
  • Increase confidence in identifying truthful or guilty suspects through the interview process
  • Identify proper interrogational strategies

Behavior analysis interview: This step involves asking structured "behavior provoking" questions “ … to elicit behavior symptoms of truth or deception from the person being interviewed.” Mr. Reid claims it to be a non-accusatory interview that serves an information-gathering process.

Interrogation: If an interrogator is reasonably certain that a suspect is guilty of a crime, they will undergo an accusatory process that is interrogation. Rather than a question-and-answer format, the interrogation process is a monologue made by the investigator whose goal is to “elicit the truth” and “obtain a court-admissible confession if it is believed that the suspect is guilty.” The nine steps in the Reid interrogation technique are as follows:

  1. The positive confrontation: Tell the suspect something like this: "I have in this file the results of our investigation into the [crime]. The results of the investigation clearly indicate that you are the person who [committed this crime].” Then, wait for the suspect’s reaction,
  2. Theme development: This step intends to place the blame for what the suspect did on some person or set of circumstances other than themselves. The goal is to determine why the suspect committed the crime rather than if they did.
  3. Handling denials: According to Mr. Reid, many lying suspects attempt to speak their denials, whereas truthful suspects typically do not ask to talk.
  4. Overcoming objections: If a suspect objects to their criminal allegations, interrogatories are required to agree with the suspect and explain what would happen if their objection was false.
  5. Procurement and retention of suspect's attention: If the suspect is acting defensive and focusing on their potential punishment, the interrogators must intensify the theme and conduct certain physical gestures to establish a feeling of understanding.
  6. Handling the suspect's passive mood: If the suspect appears defeated and upset, the investigator must continue to intensify the theme and simplify it into a couple of sentences.
  7. Presenting an alternative question: The investigator offers two incriminating choices based on their assumption of the suspect’s guilt. The alternative question should consist of justifying the alleged crime with both a good and bad reason.
  8. Having the suspect orally relate various details of the offense: When the suspect admits guilt after the interrogator’s alternative question, the interrogator must follow with a statement of reinforcement and open-ended questions about the details of the alleged crime.
  9. Converting an oral confession to a written confession: The investigator must use a third party to witness the suspect’s oral confession and then translate it into a written one.

Don’t Be Fooled During Your Interrogation

As you can see, the Reid Technique can be extensive, exhausting, and brutal. Being in a small room with intimidating interrogators who utilize this notorious technique could result in a false confession. Other factors such as being restricted from food, water and going to the bathroom could make a suspect feel like they have no way out unless they give law enforcement officials what they want: A confession.

Luckily, you have the legal right to an attorney. If you are arrested and brought to the police station for questioning, it is in your best interests to politely refuse to talk without a criminal defense lawyer present. Thus, we urge you to contact our Milwaukee criminal defense attorney at the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella by calling (414) 882-8382 to retain the legal counsel and defense your future depends on. We are available 24 hours of the day, 7 days a week.