Court admonishes investigator for not following Reid guidelines

Written By: Reid
Nov 11, 2015
In this case the Appeals court pointed out several prescribed Reid procedures that were not followed by the investigator, resulting in a confession that was found to be involuntary:

  1. A non-accusatory interview was not conducted before initiating an interrogation

  2. The investigator misrepresented the case evidence when questioning a 13 year old

  3. There was no corroboration of the incriminating statement

  4. There was contamination - disclosing details of the crime

In People v. Elias (June 2015) Court of Appeal, First District, Division 2, California the court concluded that "the prosecution failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Elias's inculpatory statements were voluntary, and the trial court therefore erred in receiving the statements in evidence." In this case a 13 year old had made incriminating statements about sexually touching a child under the age of 14.

The interrogation of the defendant took place in an office in the elementary school building; lasted about 20 to 30 minutes; and, concluded when the investigator "suggested Elias might have touched A.T.'s vagina because he found it exciting or just because he was curious, Elias rejected the first suggestion and, to [the investigator's] comment, "[b]ut you did it," said, "[f]or curiosity." Elias thus accepted [the investigator's] alternative theory that he touched the bare skin of A.T.'s vagina for three to four seconds, in the midst of playing a video game with her brother, merely "out of curiosity."

In reviewing the questioning of the defendant the Appeals Court pointed out several times that the investigator did not follow the guidelines for proper interview and interrogation procedures outlined our book, Criminal Interrogations and Confessions.

In their opinion, the Appeals Court stated that "no evidence corroborated his incriminating statements." In their discussion of the issue of corroboration the court stated:

"The best form of corroboration is the suspect's revelation of information only a guilty suspect would know. (Inbau et al., Criminal Interrogation, supra, at pp. 354-356.) Thus "[t]he admissions, 'I shot and killed Mr. Johnson' or 'I forced Susie Adams to have sex with me' may be elicited from a juvenile (or adult) suspect. These admissions become useful as evidence if they are corroborated by (1) information about the crime the suspect provides which was purposefully withheld from the suspect, and/or, (2) information not known by the police until after the confession which is subsequently verified." (Id. at p. 255.) Corroboration is "[t]he ultimate test of the trustworthiness of a confession." (Ibid.)"

The court went on to state later in their opinion that "One of the ways police facilitate false confessions is by disclosing specific facts regarding the crime during the interrogation process, inducing the suspect to adopt these facts and thus accurately "confirm[ ] the preconceived story the police seek to have him describe."... The use of this suggestive technique--referred to as "contamination" has been found to be coercive and to have overcome the will of subjects, particularly those who are young or otherwise vulnerable. From the court's opinion:

"As one of the authors of Criminal Interrogation has said, "[I]t is imperative that interrogators do not reveal details of the crime so that they can use the disclosure of such information by the suspect as verification of the confession's authenticity. In each case there should be documented 'hold back' information about the details of how the crime was committed; details from the crime scene; details about specific activities perpetrated by the offender; etc. The goal is to match the suspect's confession against these details to establish the veracity of the statement." (Combating Contamination, at pp. 847-848, quoting Joseph P. Buckley, The Reid Technique of Interviewing and Interrogation, in Tom Williamson ed., Investigative Interviewing: Rights, Research, Regulation 190, 204-05 (Willan 2005).)"

In discussing the investigator's use of deception during the interrogation (misrepresenting the evidence) and the fact that such a practice is inappropriate for this juvenile, the court quotes from Criminal Interrogation and Confessions:

"The authors of the text expounding the Reid Technique candidly admit that "[m]any of the interrogation techniques presented in this text involve duplicity and pretense. To persuade a guilty suspect to offer an admission against self-interest, the investigator may have to falsely exaggerate confidence in the suspect's guilt, sympathize with the suspect's situation, and display feelings toward the suspect or his crime that are far from genuine. The investigator may suggest a face-saving motive for the commission of the crime, knowing it is not true. In some cases an investigator may falsely imply, or outright state, that evidence exists that links the suspect to the crime." (Inbau et al., Criminal Interrogation, supra, at p. 351.) But, as we have said, the text makes it eminently clear that such deceptive techniques "should be avoided when interrogating a youthful suspect with low social maturity " because such suspects "may not have the fortitude or confidence to challenge such evidence" and "may become confused as to their own possible involvement, if the police tell them evidence clearly indicates they committed the crime." (Id. at p. 352, italics [emphasis] added.)

Later in their opinion the court points out that the investigator violated "a basic tenet of the Reid Technique meant to reduce the likelihood of inducing false confessions" - conducting a non-accusatory interview of the defendant before engaging in an interrogation. The court further stated:

"As underscored in the opening pages of the current edition of the text expounding the Reid Technique, an "interview" is "nonaccusatory," its purpose "is to gather information," "it may be conducted early in an investigation," "it may be conducted in a variety of environments," the conversation should be "free flowing and relatively unstructured," and "the investigator should take written notes." (Inbau et al., Criminal Interrogation, supra, at pp. 3-4.) On the other hand, an "interrogation" is "accusatory" and "involves active persuasion," it "is conducted in a controlled environment" and "only when the investigator is reasonably certain of the suspect's guilt," and the investigator "should not take any notes until after the suspect has told the truth and is fully committed to that position." (Id. at pp. 5-6, italics [emphasis] added.)

"Proponents of the Reid Technique, and virtually all interrogation manuals, counsel that interrogation should almost never be undertaken without the benefit of a previous interview: "Absent a life-saving circumstance the investigator should conduct a non-accusatory interview before engaging in any interrogation. During the interview the investigator can establish rapport with the suspect, assess their credibility, develop investigative information and establish a behavioral baseline. Also, during the interview the suspect is more likely to reveal information that can be used to develop an interrogation strategy." (quoting from the Reid Position Paper at
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