from the Justice-Ave.-is-often-a-one-way-street dept
God help you if you lie to a cop. We’re not even talking about court, where everyone swears to tell the whole truth, etc. before being subjected to testilying by law enforcement officers.
We’re talking about the questioning that happens after law enforcement decides someone is a person of interest. Cops are terrible at solving violent crimes, so it behooves them to obtain a “confession” by any means necessary. “Any means” often means lying. But only cops can do it. If federal officers are lied to it’s a federal crime. Lying to people suspected of committing federal crimes is just considered good (government) business.
John Oliver — who has already tackled (and ridiculed) a number of police traditions — recently addressed the tactics (and lies) officers use to drag confessions out of arrestees, including those who are innocent.
Here’s the video:
Oliver starts by calling out the “Reid technique.” This is an interrogation technique developed by former Chicago police officer John E. Reid — an alleged “polygraph expert” (LOL) — who somehow managed to have a technique named after him despite its initial run at a murder suspect being immediately followed by a recantation. Rather than beat a suspect into a confession, the Reid technique introduced intense pressure, hours of uninterrupted questioning, and lies, lies, lies.
Reid hooked [murder suspect Darrel] Parker up to the polygraph and started asking questions. Parker couldn’t see the movement of the needles, but each time he answered a question about the murder Reid told him that he was lying. As the hours wore on, Reid began to introduce a story. Contrary to appearances, he said, the Parkers’ marriage was not a happy one. Nancy refused to give Parker the sex that he required, and she flirted with other men. One day, in a rage, Parker took what was rightfully his. After nine hours of interrogation, Parker broke down and confessed. He recanted the next day, but a jury found him guilty of murder and sentenced him to life in prison.
There may have been no more reason to believe the recantation than the coerced confession. But only the confession made it into evidence. This was the outcome:
[Parker] was later determined to be innocent, after another man confessed and was found to have been the perpetrator.
It was too late. By the time Parker was found innocent, Reid had already converted his “technique” — one that had only managed to secure a false conviction — into a business and was training cops how to railroad possibly innocent people into confessions.
Reid died in 1982 but his technique lives on. It remains popular, despite its sketchy track record, as Oliver points out as only he can:
The Reid Technique has become one of those things that just culturally comes with being a cop, like their fondness for donuts, or their complicity in the perpetuation of state-sponsored violence.
Cops are naturally results-oriented. And any result — no matter how obtained or how questionable — is still a result. In cops’ minds, a confession is a fact even if, years down the road, the confession is proven false.
A confession is considered unassailable, even though so many have been successfully assailed over the years. Why? Because the Reid technique (and cops’ own instincts) lead officers to believe no innocent person would even admit to committing a crime they didn’t commit. That assumption ignores what hours of intense pressure, deceptive questioning, outright lies, and vague threats of lengthy incarceration do to the average person.
Making all of this worse is the Reid technique’s supposed ability to suss out guilt by observing an arrestee’s behavior. It’s every bit as ridiculous as the things cops consider to be signs of guilt when performing traffic stops. Everything is an indicator of guilt, especially the behavioral things that contradict the other things. There’s simply no way to “look” innocent, as Oliver notes.
When it comes to eye contact, [the Reid Technique] advises that “when a person is being less than honest, he may not maintain direct eye contact.” But also others “may overcompensate by staring.” Meaning, if you have eyes, you’re basically fucked.
The Reid technique may not have been used in all of these cases, but it definitely contributed. As the Innocence Project reports, nearly a third of all convictions overturned by use of DNA evidence relied on false confessions.
Has that stopped cops from relying on this technique or encouraged courts to stop relying on confessions that have basically been coerced? Of course not. It’s cop business as usual.
What is unusual is that we let cops lies to suspects in this country. American exceptionalism ftw:
Allowing the police to lie to suspects is crazy. Most countries do not allow it, and for good reason: It is far too powerful a tool.
Here in the US the ends justify the means. And that’s sadly the case when the ends disintegrate under further investigation. If a cop can get a confession by applying pressure, detaining a person for hours, and straight-up lying to them, it’s a win for the LEOs. And they’ll take that win every time, even if it means imprisoning the wrong person and allowing violent people to roam free. Hopefully, a discussion of this bullshit on the national stage will prompt police oversight to take a closer look at interrogation tactics and the track records of agencies that utilize the Reid technique (and other coercive methods) have racked up. What’s already on the record makes it clear, cops would rather see one innocent person convicted than prevent ten guilty people from going free.