Interrogation techniques can help law enforcement officials discover crucial information about a case, sometimes even leading to confessions. Although the law offers some guidance regarding which methods can be used to obtain confessions, less is said about how to factor developmental maturity into interrogation approaches.
In this compelling study, Kostelnik and Reppucci divided law enforcement officials into two groups – those who were Reid Trained (RT—see below) and those who were not. The officers were asked if they viewed children, adolescents and adults differently regarding interrogative suggestibility and comprehension. Kostelnik and Reppucci also examined the relationship between interrogation training and the extent to which police vary techniques based on a suspect’s age. Their results suggest that, regardless of training, law enforcement officials tend to view children differently than adolescents or adults. Adolescents, however, are often treated as adults, especially by Reid Trained officers.
The Reid Technique is a popular approach to interrogation amongst law enforcement officials. Strategies include: building rapport; minimization (minimizing the seriousness of the crime and/or the suspect’s responsibility or blame); presenting false evidence; blaming the victim; and lying or deceit. After taking the Reid course, graduates reported a 25-50% increase in confession rates. An increase in confession rates should not be confused with an increase in rates of reliable, valid or admissible confessions.
Kostelnik and Reppucci consider some of the Reid techniques to be “psychologically coercive.” Reid and Associates also send mixed messages about using these techniques with juveniles. On the one hand, they urge investigators to “exercise caution” when using the techniques referenced in this study with juveniles (Inbau, et al., 2005, p. 235.) On the other hand, they advise that, when interrogating a juvenile, “the same general rules prevail as for adults.” (Inbeau et al., 2001, p. 99 as cited by Kostelnick and Reppucci, p. 364). This lack of clarity could mean that local law enforcement agencies need to develop Policy and Procedures regarding how to interview and interrogate juveniles in a manner that incorporates developmental differences.
Subjects and Methods:
1,828 law enforcement officials from ten jurisdictions around the nation were asked if they felt children, adolescents and adults were different regarding two components of developmental maturity–-interrogative suggestibility and comprehension (comprehension of Miranda rights and of intent of the interrogation). Subjects also indicated if their use of interrogative techniques varied based upon the suspect’s age. Respondents were divided into two groups: those who were RT and those who were not.
RT respondents, 29% of the total, tended to be detectives, older and more experienced. Of those who received any type of training in interrogation methods, the Reid Technique was the most common, with 57% of the detectives and 21% of the patrol officers having been trained in the technique. Most patrol officers (60%) did not receive any training in interrogation.
Respondents completed one of three versions of the survey. The items on the surveys were the same but the age of the suspect differed: child (age 13 years and under), adolescent (age 14-17), or adult (18 years or older). For example, on the child form, respondents were asked to rate their agreement with the following statement about interrogative suggestibility: “Children incorporate elements of stories told by police into their own reports when they are interviewed or interrogated for more than a couple of hours.” Comprehension items included: “Children understand the intent of a police interrogation.” and “Miranda rights are well understood by children.” Respondents who conducted interrogations within the past year also used a checklist to identify the techniques they used.
1) Both groups–RT and non-RT–recognized developmental maturity or immaturity as it applies to children. They did not differ regarding their belief that children are suggestible and do not understand their rights.
2) Both groups indicated that children were more suggestible than adolescents.
3) RT police were less likely to appreciate developmental maturity as applied to adolescents. For example, RT police (44.5%), compared to non-RT police (57.8%), were less likely to view adolescents as suggestible and more likely (83.1% vs. 69.6%, respectively) to indicate that adolescents understood their rights and the intent of an interrogation. (These differences are statistically significant, which means that they are meaningful differences.)
4) RT police indicated that adolescents’ ability to comprehend Miranda and the intent of the interrogation was equivalent to that of adults. This suggests they failed to appreciate how adolescents and adults differ in this regard.
5) Compared to non-RT trained officers, RT police were more likely to indicate that they used deceit and presented false evidence with adolescents and adults. They also were more likely to use minimization with all three age groups.
6) RT police were as likely to use these techniques on adolescents as adults but were less likely to use them with children.
Implications and Impressions:
These findings indicate that, on the whole, respondents recognize key components of developmental maturity as it applies to children or suspects under the age of 14. However, especially in the case of RT police, the sensitivity to these developmental issues does not extend to adolescents. Regarding suggestibility, comprehension of Miranda rights and intent of the interrogation, many RT police do not perceive a difference between adolescents and adults. This is contrary to the Court’s decision in Graham v. Florida and to what neuroscientists and psychologists have been saying, based on extensive research, for years: adolescents and adults are different.
Fifty percent of the officers in this study acknowledge using the false evidence technique with adolescent suspects. Laboratory studies have demonstrated that subjects readily confess when presented with false evidence. Similarly, for “real life” interrogations, Reid warns against using false evidence with “a youthful suspect with low social maturity . . . . These suspects may not have the fortitude or confidence to challenge such evidence and, depending on the nature of the crime, may become confused as to their own possible involvement . . . .” (p.429)
Finally, one should always consider the possibility that subjects try to present themselves in a favorable light. These officers may sometimes underestimate what they actually do in the interrogation room. The American Bar Association passed a resolution urging law enforcement to videotape interrogations, not just confessions. In my opinion, a review of the videotape provides judges, prosecutors, defense counsel and clinicians a valuable tool in gauging the reliability of confessions by assessing the interrogation techniques.