The three main procedures in criminal investigation pertain to identifying the criminal, locating and apprehending him and proving his guilt in the court. While investigating, the investigator has to rely on the three chief means of instrumentation, information and interviewing and interrogating. While Instrumentation enables the investigator to detect or rule out a suspect, information is converted into intelligence reports to detect, search and apprehend the criminal. Interview and interrogation is an important means to carry the investigation further when there is no significant physical evidence available.
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The main difference amongst interview and interrogation is that interviews are conducted in a pleasant and friendly manner to make the subject feel psychologically and physically comfortable while in interrogations the suspect is questioned in an interrogation room, normally under psychological pressure. The interrogator is at a psychological advantage and is said to succeed only if he gets a confession or facts of the case from the suspect. Interrogating is an art and a good investigator may not necessarily be a good interrogator. An interrogator has to act well and have good knowledge about human psychological behaviors since every suspect could be different psychologically.
The subjects are made to answer specific questions during interviews as asked by investigators about the crime and other matters related to the crime. Interviews are a form of non threatening preliminary enquiries where the subject’s verbal and non verbal behaviour is observed and rapport built with them in order to extract maximum possible information in a cordial atmosphere.
If the interview does not result in getting the required information despite the subject being conclusively involved in the crime, he is sent for interrogation to extract additional facts from him. Interrogators aim at bringing the investigation to a close by using varied skills in asking the subject to make statements instead of asking him questions. Interrogators do not seek information but aim at obtaining admissions and confessions (Aubrey, 1986, pp.37).
However obtaining the required information is no easy task since guilty suspects often get away from the interrogation without making any confession and criminals are able to go unpunished in remaining free to commit crimes again, to the ultimate detriment of society. Successful interrogators are able to control the subjects in terms of the environment and the topics discussed. Interrogations should be conducted only when privacy and control of the environment can be guaranteed so that there is no distraction. The interrogation room should not have any intercoms, telephones and windows since divergent settings make subjects to react only to enquiries.
A proper environment enables the interrogator to closely observe the subject’s verbal and non verbal reactions to the presented issues. Most often there is just one good opportunity to interrogate a suspect and risking the opportunity by conducting the interrogation in an unsuitable environment will not fulfill the objectives.
The interrogator must have complete information about the suspect before conducting the interrogation. He should have authentic details about his name, age occupation and social and financial standing. The criminal history of the suspect must be obtained and it must be ascertained whether he is related to the victim in any manner. Similar details of the victim should also be obtained and all facts of the crime should be well recorded in terms of time and place of occurrence, modes operandi, physical evidence and other pertinent information. Adequate background information about the subjects is essential in regard to their personal values and attitudes.
It is known that individuals make confessions in keeping with their emotions and defend their actions with logic (Decker et al, 1992). Hence it helps interrogators to have maximum knowledge about suspects. If they can understand the objectives of subjects and have an idea about their needs and conflicts, the information can be utilized in persuading them to come out with the truth.
Criminals can be classified into emotional and non emotional offenders. This classification enables the interrogator to vary the approach and procedures while interrogating suspects. Interrogating emotional offenders becomes easier since they are usually first time offenders and can be easily overwhelmed by using their emotional weaknesses pertaining to love, hate, irritation and frustration. Techniques such as showing sympathy, empathizing and blaming the society can work with such offenders in extracting factual confessions. The discreet interrogator behaves differently with them and most often a friendly approach works wonders.
By observing the physical reactions to related and non related questions of such suspects, the expert interrogator is able to infer the factual position as far as the suspect may be involved in the crime. The emotional offender eventually gives in when confronted with the relevant evidence.
Hardened criminals do not have emotions and are hard core professionals in having gained experience of committing several crimes and evaded arrest and prosecution or served several jail terms. They lose their credibility in the viewpoint of interrogators and it becomes very difficult to make them speak out and to extract confessions and factual information from them. The question and answer method works effectively with them, whereby several questions are asked to ascertain the facts of the case. The questions are developed on the strength of existing information on the case and conclusions are drawn from the answers given by the suspect.
Another method is to allow the suspect to tell his entire story and then to repeat it a number of times. This strategy entails that the suspect will never be able to reveal the same facts every time if he is not truthful and the more he lies, the more opportunity he gives to the interrogator in catching the untruthfulness of his story. The interrogator verifies the suspect’s story and interrogates him again to connect the different versions of the story. The interrogator asks the suspect to provide an alibi which must be verified. If a hardened criminal is confronted with factual information in relation to the totality of circumstances he may have no option but to confess (Zulawski, 2001, Pp. 214-217).
Interrogators also use sweet and sour methods, gestures, neuro linguistics, nonverbal behavior, body movements and paralanguages to establish rapport with subjects in extracting information from them. One strategy is to have the suspect first spoken to by a soft spoken person and then by a harsh interrogator. A suspect is made to view the interrogation of another suspect from a distance so that he cannot hear what is being said and can only judge what is being transpired from his body language, and when his turn comes he is told that the suspect has confessed about the crime. In the context of his companion’s confession and in keeping with the procedures of neuro linguistic techniques, he is nudged to tender his confession too.
Suspects are placed in certain hypothetical situations during interrogation whereby they are asked that if they were to commit the crime how they would do it and important clues can be obtained by the discerning interrogator. However there is no specific procedure to interrogate suspects to get facts and confessions. The experience, presence of mind and tact of the interrogator is pertinent in making the interrogation result oriented. Getting a confession even in writing does not have much value unless it is supported with independent and specific physical and circumstantial evidences.
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In regard to interviews it is important to know that there are different kinds of witnesses such as indifference witnesses, interested witnesses, hostile witnesses and child witnesses (Link, 1989, pp.56). Indifferent witnesses are the easiest to interview since they have no personal interest in the case becoming a success or a failure. They prefer to give all information about the case, while interested witnesses could be friends or relatives of the possible beneficiaries making them to have an interest in exaggerating or twisting facts. Hostile witnesses may prefer to lie to protect the suspect in keeping with friendship or other motives.
Such witnesses require to be interrogated than to be interviewed. Children are unstable witnesses who do not lie but are susceptible to suggestions. While conducting interviews it is better to support the case by having eye witnesses. Legal jurisprudence requires interrogators and interviewers to have full details of the subject in terms of education, physical conditions, emotional state and profession. The subject’s information as gathered from the interview can be very useful in corroborating the physical and circumstantial evidences gathered in regard to the case (Hill, 2009).
Computer voice stress analyzers and polygraphs are used by interrogators to detect lies. The computer voice stress analyzer measures change in voice frequency of subjects that occurs whenever they deviate from the truth. Polygraph gauges the change in the subject’s body as related to alteration in breathing, heart beat and emotional sweating. Both these gadgets are very useful to investigators in narrowing down the investigation process and in drawing conclusions although the results are not admissible as evidence in the courts of law. However they do prove to be effective supplements in the investigation process although the results obtained from using them are not admissible as evidence.
The case, Miranda v. Arizona is a befitting example that highlighted the excesses committed by police officers in extracting false confessions under coercion during the interrogation process. The matter reached the Supreme Court in 1966 when the coercive interrogation tactics were much criticized. After two hours of coercive interrogation Ernesto Miranda was literally forced into confessing kidnapping and rape. The appeal in the Supreme Court pleaded that as per the Fifth Amendment, Miranda was unaware of his rights to keep silent and as per the Sixth Amendment was not aware to engage a counsel.
The ruling of the Supreme Court went in Miranda’s favour and the decision established what the legal fraternity came to know as the Miranda Rights. The law requires that in order to prevent a suspect from getting trapped into a forced confession in thinking that he has no other choice but to confess, the interrogators must clearly, explicitly and entirely convey to suspects that they have the right to keep silent and to have a counsel before the interrogation is commenced. This also applies to other attempts to obtain written statements from suspects. The Miranda decision endeavors to do away with ignorance on the part of the suspect in being a contributing factor towards forced confessions (McBride, 2006).
It is to be noted in this regard that the main constitutional amendments relating to admissibility of confessions in the Supreme Court are the Fifth Amendment, the Sixth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fifth Amendment ensures the suspect’s right to not implicate him, the Sixth Amendment assures the right to fast trial and the Fourteenth Amendment ensures the entitlement to the due process of law. If the police hold or interrogate a suspect for three days devoid of holding him responsible for a crime, they violate the person’s entitlement to the due process of law. If the police strings the suspect to a tree or any other object and whips and tortures him until he gives confession, they again violate the suspect’s entitlement to not implicate him.
In essence, modern interrogation practices are a study in human temperament and disposition. People usually speak to people who are like them. Once they commence talking it becomes difficult to stop them and once they commence speaking the truth it becomes difficult for them to start lying. It is human tendency to give in under pressure, which is exactly what happens when a police officer pressurizes a suspect by telling him that his finger prints were found on the door of the house that was broken into; he will get nervous even though he may have been wearing gloves for the entire time that he was in the house or even if he may not have been in close proximity to the said house.
Except under certain circumstances interrogators perceive the right to misinform the suspect in getting him to confess. This is done under the belief that an innocent person will never admit to a crime that he did not commit even though he may be faced with false physical indications of his connection in the crime. However this is not always true but it is a reason for the police to employ tactics of deception while interrogating.
Psychological manipulation is arranged for before the interrogator starts speaking to the suspect. The physical appearance of the interrogation room is conceived in a manner that the suspect’s distress and uneasiness is maximized in making him feel powerless from the moment he enters the room. The interrogation manual titled “Criminal Interrogation and Confessions” endorses the use of a small room that is soundproof with provision for only three people to sit; for two interrogators and one for the suspect, along with a table with nothing placed on the walls of the room. Such an environment enhances the feeling of exposure, isolation and lack of familiarity thus increasing the suspects craving to get out of the room as soon as possible even while the interrogation is in progress.
The Reid technique of interrogation is the foundation for the Criminal Interrogation and Confessions manual used by interrogators. It provides for nine stages or questions in conducting interrogations. Although there is no typical definition of the process of interrogation, the Reid technique forms the basis for successful interrogations. The nine stages of the technique are as under:
- Theme development
- Stopping denials
- Overcoming objections
- Getting the suspect’s attention
- The suspect loses resolve
- Bringing the suspect into the conversation
- The confession
It is noteworthy for citizens to be aware in this regard that in the USA, the law provides for the interrogation to be stopped immediately if the suspect at any time during the interrogation asks for a lawyer or invokes his right to remain silent. It is for this reason that interrogators feel it very important and crucial to prevent the suspect from speaking or attempting to speak during the initial stage of the interrogation, because if he refers to his legal entitlements, the interrogation comes to an end. The steps and stages explained are indicative of the psychological techniques used by interrogators to extract confessions from suspects. However an actual interrogation does not always follow the book.
A lot of growing awareness has been focused on incidents of confessions that are coerced falsely in implicating suspects. It has been estimated by the Innocence project that almost 8% of wrong convictions occur due to coerced confession as prompted by interrogators. Measures have been taken in resolving this malpractice by training police interrogators on proper procedures for conducting interrogations.
Police officers are also trained in ascertaining how to detect witnesses and suspects who are at greater risk of giving false statements and confessions. An effective way to prevent coerced confessions is to adopt the system of videotaping the complete interrogation process. Many police departments have begun to do so in the US while conducting interviews and interrogations in making interrogators to be cautious in adhering to the ethical practices as provided by law. Additionally, videotapes enable objective and neutral records of the proceedings during interrogations (Bell, 2009).
As a suspect is made to experience more stress he becomes less likely to think independently and decisively thus making him more susceptible to suggestions. This becomes truer in the case of suspects who are minor or mentally unwell since they are not prepared to understand and resist manipulative techniques. Processes that are devised to make a suspect excessively tense in order to make him confess to escape from the mental torture being inflicted are in fact processes that leave themselves open to coerced confessions. It is estimated that there are a large number of false confessions being made in the USA every year.
Interrogation has always remained a subject of controversy. Every time a police officer take a civilian with him into a room, people will always question what transpires within the room and every time the police officer extracts a confession, the number of such questions will shoot up. Issues will be made of whether the confession was forcefully obtained and whether the police had violated the person’s legal entitlements.
Under such circumstance the real question remains to be answered whether police interrogations can ever be fair processes and how can systems that are devised to coerce suspects into making confessions be treated as being non-coercive. The debates in this regard continue to rage in ascertaining whether the process is fair and in keeping with morality, but the matter will continue to be in the forefront in view of the several issues at stake.
Aubrey Arthur S, & Rudolph R. Caputo, Criminal Interrogation, Charles C. Thomas, Springfield, 1986. pp. 37.
Bell Rachel, (2009). Coerced False Confessions During Police Interrogations. Web.
Decker Bert and Denney James, You’ve Got to be Believed to be Heard, St. Martin’s Press, 1992. pp. 34-35.
Hill Cindy Ellen, (2009). Police Interviewing Tecniques. Web.
Link Frederick & Foster Glen, The Kinesic Interview Technique, Riverdale. 1989. pp. 56.
McBride Alex, (2006). Miranda v. Arizona (1966). Web.
Zulawski David E, (2001). Practical Aspects of interview and Interrogation, CRC. pp. 214-217.