False Confessions & the Reid Technique

The Reid technique of interrogation (developed by John Reid) is used throughout Oregon and the United States, and is the highly effective method of eliciting confessions from suspects, both guilty and innocent.   With the Reid technique, arm-twisting is replaced with mind-twisting.  One out of four post-conviction DNA exonerations involve a false confession.

“In 1962, Reid and his mentor, a Northwestern Law professor named Fred Inbau, co-wrote the first edition of Criminal Interrogation and Confessions. Criminologists and law historians credit their method with defining the culture of police-interrogation training for the past half-century. The procedure basically involves three stages meant to break down a suspect’s defenses and rebuild him as a confessor. First, the suspect is brought into custody and isolated from his familiar surroundings. This was the birth of the modern interrogation room. Next the interrogator lets the suspect know he’s guilty—that he knows it, the cops know it, and the interrogator doesn’t want to hear any lies. The interrogator then floats a theory of the case, which the manual calls a ‘theme.’ The theme can be supported by evidence or testimony the investigator doesn’t really have. In the final stage, the interrogator cozies up to the subject and provides a way out. This is when the interrogator uses the technique known as ‘minimization': telling the suspect he understands why he must have done it; that anyone else would understand, too; and that he will feel better if only he would confess. The interrogator is instructed to cut off all denials and instead float a menu of themes that explain why the suspect committed the crime—one bad, and one not so bad, but both incriminating, as in ‘Did you mean to do it, or was it an accident?'”


Because of it’s demonstrated unreliability and the frequency with which it elicits false confessions, the Reid Technique has been renounced in Canada and Great Britain.  With the Oregon Supreme Court’s courageous and scientifically rigorous stand against suggestive eyewitness identifications in State v. Lawson (link to blog), the next frontier for Oregon criminal defense lawyers will be to convince judges and juries to see Reid technique-induced confessions for what they are:  unacceptably unreliable.

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