Police Interrogations

 Posted by on 29 July 2011 at 7:00 am  Crime, Law, Psychology
Jul 292011

In preparation for Sunday’s Rationally Selfish Webcast question on whether police should be allowed to lie to suspects in the course of a criminal investigation, I’ve been researching the standard practices and legal limits of police interrogation. I’ve found that extremely interesting, so I thought I’d share some links before the webcast itself.

First, How Police Interrogation Works from “How Stuff Works.” Basically, police interrogations are designed to exert as much psychological pressure on the victim as the courts allow. This article explains those techniques.

Second, What can the police lie about while conducting an interrogation? from “The Straight Dope.” This article is a fascinating summary of what kind of facts the police are permitted to misrepresent in dealings with suspects — because some and only some kinds of lies violate the suspect’s rights. The basic distinction is between “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” falsehoods. The article says:

Attempting to reconcile [various] rulings [by the Supreme Court], state courts and lower federal courts have come to draw a distinction between two kinds of lying to suspects: intrinsic misrepresentations, or those lies that relate to a suspect’s connection to the crime; and extrinsic misrepresentations, or those that have nothing to do with the suspect’s connection to the crime but attempt to distort his ability to make a rational choice about confessing.

That’s the critical issue here, I think. Police should be able to lie to suspects, but some kinds of lies — such as “you don’t have the right to an attorney” or “we can hold you indefinitely” constitute a kind of fraud, whereas others like “your fingerprints were found at the scene of the murder” and “a witness saw you enter the store” don’t. However, I’m not yet fully clear on the distinction, and I need to do more reading, this time from genuine law sources.


Greg blogged about this video back in 2008, but I didn’t watch it at the time. Now that I have, I can agree with Greg’s summary and conclusions:

[James Duane] is speaking to law students, explaining why he uniformly advises his clients (and everyone) that they should they never, ever, under any circumstances, talk with the police — guilty or innocent, a suspect or not, even if they are smarter than Aristotle and Newton combined, articulate as all get out, an expert in the law, and pure as the wind-driven snow. Never. …

He explains how talking to the police can’t ever help, and will in all likelihood hurt even innocents. This last is the part that really stood out: even the most innocuous statements by the most innocent of people could put them in jeopardy — it depends on context they don’t control. An officer misremembering an answer could bring a conviction; so could misremembering the question. Taping interviews is no guarantee, either: even some fuzziness in the contextual information that floated by before the interview could be disastrous!

Fourth, “Don’t Talk to the Police” by Officer George Bruch

In this follow-up lecture, George Bruch completely agreed with James Duane: a person should not speak to the police without his lawyer present.

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