In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Interrogation

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Preinterrogation Interview
  • Miranda
  • Problematic Aspects of Interrogation
  • Highly Vulnerable Suspects
  • Recommended Reforms
  • Video Recording Interrogations
  • The British Model of Interviewing Criminal Suspects
  • Court Rulings
  • Legislation Requiring Electronic Recording

Criminology Interrogation
G. Daniel Lassiter, Shannon K. Pinegar
  • LAST REVIEWED: 16 July 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0180


Since the US Supreme Court ruled in 1936 that physically coerced confessions are inadmissible at trial, police interrogation in America has moved to psychologically based techniques for eliciting incriminating statements from suspected criminals. Although this development is viewed as a significant advance in law enforcement’s approach to obtaining confessions, modern-day interrogations remain controversial. In its landmark 1966 Miranda ruling, the US Supreme Court recognized that even pressure of a purely psychological nature could potentially be coercive, leading the Court to require that police inform suspects of their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and their Sixth Amendment right to counsel prior to initiating a custodial interrogation. The Miranda requirement has provoked discontent among crime control and due process adherents alike. The former argue it hampers criminal justice by making it more likely the guilty will escape an interrogation that could produce a confession, which often might be necessary to secure a conviction, whereas the latter note that Miranda does little to protect the innocent, as research indicates that most innocent individuals waive their rights to silence and counsel. Several training manuals have been published that offer purportedly scientifically tested methods for how to conduct effective psychologically oriented interrogations; however, critics of such manuals contend that the strategies and tactics recommended therein have no truly rigorous scientific foundation. For example, proponents of the widely adopted Reid Technique claim that their Behavior Symptom Analysis, which consists of the evaluation of verbal, paralinguistic, and nonverbal behaviors during a preinterrogation interview, reveals a deceptive suspect (and therefore presumably a guilty one) with 83 percent accuracy. A considerable body of scholarship on lie-detection success, however, suggests that such a level of accuracy is unlikely to be realistically achieved. Aided by advances in DNA testing that occurred in the late 1980s, organizations such as the Innocence Project have been able to establish that innocent people sometimes make false confessions during interrogations. This has led legal and psychological researchers to critically examine prevailing interrogation practices. Guided primarily by psychological science, investigations are beginning to identify the particular aspects of an interrogation that tend to increase the risk of innocent persons incriminating themselves. As a result, public policy papers have begun to be issued that recommend certain reforms be implemented to reduce the likelihood that interrogation will lead innocent suspects to incriminate themselves, yet will still encourage the guilty to take responsibility for their crime.

General Overviews

Instruction manuals, such as Gordon and Fleisher 2011 and Holmes 2002, purport to convey effective and modern methods of interrogation, with perhaps the most influential of these being the fifth edition of Inbau, et al. 2013. Inbau, et al. 2013 describes what is known as the Reid Technique of interrogation. Comprising nine steps, the Reid method is characterized in Leo 2008 as “a lengthy and repetitive process in which the interrogator establishes psychological control over the suspect and gradually elicits a confession by raising the suspect’s anxiety levels while simultaneously lowering the perceived consequences of confessing” (p. 113). While these manuals generally tout the “scientific” basis and high success rates of their recommended procedures, legal and psychological scholars who systematically study interrogations—as shown in Gudjonsson 2003, Kassin and Gudjonsson 2004, Lassiter 2004, Lassiter and Meissner 2010, and Leo 2008—dispute the validity of such claims.

  • Gordon, Nathan J., and William L. Fleisher. 2011. Effective interviewing and interrogation techniques. 3d ed. Burlington, MA: Academic Press.

    An interrogation instruction manual that places considerable emphasis on detecting deception; advocates presenting suspects with crime-relevant images/sketches and interpreting their reactions to identify deceit and guilt prior to initiating an interrogation whose sole purpose is to extract a confession.

  • Gudjonsson, Gisli H. 2003. The psychology of interrogations and confessions: A handbook. Wiley Series in Psychology of Crime, Policing, and Law. Chichester, UK: Wiley.

    Authored by a leading scholar on the topic, this extensive volume covers some problematic interrogations and confessions that occurred primarily in the United Kingdom, which helped usher in sweeping reforms in that country’s interrogation policies (see the British Model of Interviewing Criminal Suspects). A number of risk factors associated with interrogation-induced false confessions are examined.

  • Holmes, Warren D. 2002. Criminal interrogation: A modern format for interrogating criminal suspects based on the intellectual approach. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

    Another interrogation manual that differs from many in that it does not characterize a successful interrogation as a guilt-presumptive process that must proceed in an accusatory, unrelenting fashion (see the Interrogation); however, similar to other manuals, it emphasizes an assessment of “body language” as a key to detecting deception (see Preinterrogation Interview).

  • Inbau, Fred E., John E. Reid, Joseph P. Buckley, and Brian C. Jayne. 2013. Criminal interrogation and confessions. 5th ed. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

    The most influential of the interrogation manuals; a preinterrogation interview is recommended to establish a suspect’s guilt via a Behavior Symptom Analysis (see Introduction). Suspects who are presumed guilty are then interrogated using the nine-step Reid Technique (see Preinterrogation Interview and the Interrogation).

  • Kassin, Saul M., and Gisli H. Gudjonsson. 2004. The psychology of confessions: A review of the literature and issues. Psychological Science in the Public Interest 5.2: 33–67.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1529-1006.2004.00016.x

    A monograph (issued by the Association for Psychological Science) authored by two preeminent scholars that summarizes findings from individual case studies, archival reports, correlational studies, and laboratory and field experiments that together indicate certain aspects of interrogation can increase the likelihood of false confessions (see also Problematic Aspects of Interrogation).

  • Lassiter, G. Daniel, ed. 2004. Interrogations, confessions, and entrapment. Perspectives in Law and Psychology 20. New York: Kluwer Academic.

    The first compilation of the breadth of research on interrogations and confessions; highlights the work of a diverse group of scholars (both national and international), including clinical, cognitive, developmental, and social psychologists, as well as criminologists and legal professionals. Legal psychologists are urged to make exposing subtle but coercive influences in the criminal justice system a research priority.

  • Lassiter, G. Daniel, and Christian A. Meissner, eds. 2010. Police interrogations and false confessions: Current research, practice, and policy recommendations. Decade of Behavior. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    This volume grew out of the first scientific conference (Autumn 2007) to focus specifically on interrogations and the false confessions they sometimes produce. The chapters—authored by social scientists, legal scholars, and practitioners—cover a wide range of topics, including one that considers the implications of early-21st-century knowledge for practice, policy, and future research (see also Recommended Reforms).

  • Leo, Richard A. 2008. Police interrogation and American justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    A critical examination of the structure and psychology of American police interrogations. Leo distinguishes between the preadmission and postadmission portions of an interrogation (see Preadmission and Postadmission) and argues that what transpires in the latter may determine whether a false confession leads to a wrongful conviction.

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