Correcting the record - Canadian Broadcasting Company story

Written By: Joseph P. Buckley
May 29, 2024

On May 26, 2024, the Canadian Broadcasting News (CBC) posted an online story written by Caitlyn Gowriluk entitled, Admitted Winnipeg serial killer's lawyers tried to get confession thrown out before trial

From their story:

“Months before a videotaped confession became a key piece of evidence in Jeremy Skibicki's first-degree murder trial in the deaths of four women, his defence team tried to get the statement he made to Winnipeg police thrown out by a judge.

Their arguments included claims that Skibicki's statement wasn't voluntary because of mental illness — and that police used a controversial technique in their interview that's been linked to false confessions. (Later identified in the article as the Reid Technique – see below.)

Skibicki was interviewed by police in May 2022 during a roughly 20-hour interrogation — parts of which have since been shown as evidence in his trial this month — after he was arrested as a suspect in the killing of Rebecca Contois.

The 24-year-old's partial remains had been discovered a day earlier in garbage bins around Skibicki's apartment in northeast Winnipeg.

During his police interview, Skibicki not only admitted to killing Contois, but also unexpectedly confessed he'd killed three other women, whose deaths police didn't know about.

Skibicki's lawyers…… argued that police interrogated him using elements of what's known as the Reid technique — a controversial method that's been linked to false confessions.

That technique includes using long monologues to control the direction of an interview and dragging out the interrogation to exhaust the accused, making them feel they're in a stressful situation, defence lawyer Leonard Tailleur told court during the pretrial motion in November.”

The article also includes a reference to the Reid Technique as “problematic.”

While we do not know the details of the confession in this case, to say that the Reid Technique is associated with false confessions is completly erroneous.

False confessions are not caused by the application of the Reid Technique but are usually caused by investigators engaging in behavior that the courts have ruled to be objectionable, such as threatening inevitable consequences; making a promise of leniency in return for the confession; denying a subject their rights; conducting an excessively long interrogation; denying the suspect an opportunity to satisfy their physical needs, etc.

In one research effort, the author studied the first 110 DNA exoneration cases reported by the Innocence Project. The author reported that, “This study failed to find a single false confession of a cognitively normal individual that did not include the use of coercive tactics by the interrogator...” The author identified coercive interrogation tactics as “the use of physical force; denial of food, sleep or bathroom; explicit threats of punishment; explicit promises of leniency; and extremely lengthy interrogations.” (J. Pete Blair, “A Test of the Unusual False Confession Perspective: Using Cases of Proven False Confessions” Criminal Law Bulletin (Vol 41, Number 2)

The best way to avoid false confessions is to conduct interrogations in accordance with the guidelines established by the courts, and to adhere to the following Best Practices, which are the core principles/tenets of the Reid Technique:

• Do not make any promises of leniency

• Do not threaten the subject with any physical harm or inevitable consequences

• Do not conduct interrogations for an excessively lengthy period of time

• Do not deny the subject any of their rights

• Do not deny the subject the opportunity to satisfy their physical needs

• Withhold information about the details of the crime from the subject so that if the subject confesses the disclosure of that information can be used to confirm the authenticity of the statement

• Exercise special cautions when questioning juveniles or individuals with mental or psychological impairments

• Always treat the subject with dignity and respect

• The confession is not the end of the investigation – investigate the confession details in an effort to establish the authenticity of the subject’s statement

For additional details on how to conduct a proper investigative interview, and when appropriate, an interrogation see our Investigator Tip,

Principles of Practice: How to Conduct Proper Investigative Interviews and Interrogations