The authors are studying the issue of techniques used by police officers to interrogate young suspects. The findings indicate the discrepancy between the perception of youth in general and that of the young suspects in the interrogation process, and the existence of predominant view that interrogation techniques devised for adult population are equally applicable to young suspects.
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The main objective of the author is to detect the reason behind the allegedly high amount of wrong convictions of young suspects resulting from false confessions made under pressure. The issue is relevant because the information obtained through confession is held in high regard by the legal institutions and is considered among the strongest evidence of a crime. At the same time, secondary evidence suggests that a significant percentage of convictions is made based on the wrong confessions and that the numbers are especially high among younger individuals. The author tries to show that at least some of these convictions are caused by the wrong perception of applicability of interrogation techniques. These findings can contribute to the understanding of the root of the problem and aid in developing countermeasures.
The existing literature on the subject illustrates a high degree of vulnerability of the juveniles to the commonly used interrogation techniques. Specifically, previous studies show a much higher rate of false confessions among young suspects (44% versus 13% among adults). In addition, multiple studies indicate the tendency among the young individuals to provide unreliable reports when the suggestive interrogation was taking place. Finally, multiple pieces of evidence were located regarding the viability of Reid Technique in the juvenile context. Specifically, the younger individuals were proven to have difficulty comprehending specific terminology and confusing structures, were more susceptible to the suggestive and repeating manner of interrogation, and that the interrogators demonstrated a lower level of deception detection than expected. These findings suggest that the issue may be caused by the discrepancy between the approach preferred by the police educators and the results of social studies. To confirm this suggestion, the authors formulated the following hypotheses: The police 1) do not possess relevant knowledge on youth developmental capacities that influence the outcome of the interrogation, 2) are unfamiliar with the findings of social science which contradict the existing protocols, and 3) utilize the same interrogation techniques for adults and juveniles.
Methods and Data
The data used for the study was obtained through a survey administered to representatives of law enforcement. The participants in the sample were the officers of the Baltimore County Police Department. Aside from the gender distribution (less than 10% female participants), the demographics of the sample was fairly even. While the sample is not a good representation of the population due to the high percentage of male respondents (likely caused by their professional area), it was probably representative of the target audience (law enforcement) which makes a sample in question unique. The study uses mixed methods since it involves statistical analysis of the survey results and several qualitative methods, such as observations of the recordings of the interrogation process and participation in Reid training.
Based on the survey results, the authors found that on the average the police agreed that the young suspects understand the intent of interrogation, with investigators displaying stronger belief than police officers. Next, the respondents slightly disagreed on detection of specific behavior depending on the actual guilt. The reported accuracy of detection of deception ranged from 50.3% to 59.5% depending on the area. Finally, the participants voiced no significant concern with the possible vulnerability to suggestions during the interrogation, with investigators being less likely to acknowledge the possibility than police officers. In addition, the police estimated the possibility of false statements induced by interrogation from 19% to 40% depending on the specific effects, and the percentage of time of eliciting false confessions at 12%. In all instances, investigators tended to report lower percentages than police officers.
Discussion & Conclusion
The findings indicate that police officers possess basic knowledge of youth development but scarcely apply it to the interrogation practices. Besides, the analysis indicates the usage of interrogation methods intended for adult suspects (e.g. deceit and psychological coercion) for young individuals. Specifically, the comprehension difficulties are rarely taken into account in the interrogation process despite the voiced understanding of the possible complications. Next, higher suggestibility and psychological immaturity are not integrated into the procedure despite the adequate knowledge on the subject outside the interrogational context. Finally, the alarming rate of 10% of false confessions does not seem to influence the conclusions of the investigators, who rely on the eventual right outcome based on further investigation. The limitations identified y the authors include the narrow scope of the sample (single metropolitan area), the possibility of desirability bias resulting from mistrust about academia, and the presence of investigators, who usually deal with more serious cases and, by extension, show less acknowledgment of investigation techniques’ fallibility. The research is important because it locates the gap in police training and identifies the possible root cause of the high proportion of false convictions. The authors suggest studying a larger law enforcement community and support the recommendations of changes in interrogation protocol in order to mitigate the identified adverse effects.