The Danger of Deception: New Recommendations for Police Interrogations

In the debate over proper interrogation techniques, the public safety sector is faced with an important challenge. We must balance effective law enforcement with our commitment to protect individuals’ rights during the investigation process. New research, court rulings, and training opportunities continue to inform the best practices and recommendations for police interrogations—the learning never stops.

Juvenile Interrogation Risks with the Use of Deception

Agencies across the country are eager to advance their skill sets to become even more productive and successful in reducing crime and keeping their communities safe. That’s why it’s critical to pay special attention to the delicate realm of juvenile police interrogations. The use of deception may be common practice, and a useful tactic to elicit confessions, but the effects on young people can be especially problematic.

As young minds are still developing, they may be more susceptible to psychological manipulation during the questioning process. Consequently, there is a growing recognition among legal practitioners, psychologists, and policymakers that the traditional approach to interrogation, especially involving deception, may not be appropriate for juveniles.

Safeguarding the rights and well-being of juveniles and the use of deception remains a complex challenge in the landscape of law enforcement practices. But it’s important to remember the distinction between public opinion and the court of law. The use of misrepresenting evidence to the subject, in and of itself, does not make an “otherwise voluntary confession” inadmissible.

Law enforcement must do everything in their power to avoid leading suspects into false admissions of guilt. Understanding that the use of deception raises ethical concerns for juveniles and other vulnerable parties comes first. From there, we can start to explore the techniques that will be both productive and permissible in the pursuit of justice.

Considering the Reid Technique Policy Recommendations

When the United States Supreme Court upheld the admissibility of the defendant’s confession in Frazier v. Cupp (394 U.S. 731), we see that the use of deception can be tailored to the specific circumstances of an interrogation—without compromising law enforcement’s responsibility to honor the subject’s rights.

Naturally, these concerns are only heightened for vulnerable individuals, such as juveniles, people with mental health issues, or those with intellectual disabilities. But by following the guidelines established by the courts, along with the latest Reid policy recommendations (see their June 2023 Investigator Tip), law enforcement agencies can contribute to fair and ethical interrogations. Every step matters:

1. Consider the impact of misrepresenting evidence on credibility: Investigators should be mindful of how misrepresenting evidence to the subject may affect their credibility during court proceedings and jury perceptions.

2. Consult with local prosecutors and understand court decisions: Investigators should seek guidance from local prosecutors regarding their views on using deception during interrogations. They should also familiarize themselves with relevant court decisions within their jurisdiction on this matter.

3. Avoid misrepresenting evidence to suspects who admit involvement: Investigators should refrain from using deception with suspects who already acknowledge their potential involvement in the crime but lack specific recollections.

4. Exercise caution with vulnerable suspects: Avoid using deception on youthful suspects with low social maturity, individuals with diminished mental capacity, or those with psychological disabilities.

5. Do not threaten inevitable consequences: Investigators should never employ deception to threaten inevitable consequences, as such tactics can lead to coerced and potentially false statements.

6. Never fabricate evidence or promise leniency: Investigators must refrain from fabricating evidence or making false promises of leniency during interrogations.

7. Limit misrepresentations concerning incontrovertible evidence: Given evolving judicial and legislative trends, investigators should generally avoid misrepresentations about incontrovertible or dispositive evidence during interrogations. 

The inherent vulnerability of young suspects, coupled with their limited understanding of their rights and the consequences of their actions, makes them particularly susceptible to the pressure exerted through deceptive tactics. Yet with the proper training for investigators, law enforcement agencies can continue to enhance the credibility and integrity of their interrogations, and the criminal justice system as a whole.

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