I’m not sure who said the title of this post, but I must confess that I enjoy watching Kyra Sedgwick (as Brenda Leigh Johnson) interrogate suspects on “The Closer.” However, as a writer who must be realistic with a murder interrogation, I sometimes wonder if Brenda Leigh might violate a few civil rights or Supreme Court Rulings. (Is “violate” the right word, or “roll over like a steam roller”?) So it’s time for some research on real interrogation.
In my current work in progress, my detective, TJ Sweeney, interrogates a suspect that had means, a doozy of a motive, and opportunity to kill a victim early in the novel. As a result, I’ve been researching interrogation methods so I can keep my fiction book real. In the United States, an interrogation must stop if the suspect asks for a lawyer or invokes his right to silence; however, as many as 80% of suspects do not do either.
Many police departments use something called the Reid Technique for interviews and interrogations. This method was developed in 1947 by John E. Reid in Chicago. He was a polygraph expert and used his observations to create a curriculum for interrogation. Police departments have been trained in his method to this day, and now the public, as well as private investigators, can take 3-5 day seminars in the technique.
The initial steps include interviewing or interrogating a suspect at the police department so he is uncomfortable, nervous, scared, and not on his home turf. The room is set up with a small table, two chairs for detectives, an uncomfortable chair for the suspect, and an arrangement where the suspect has his back to the door. My suspect is well over six feet tall and is feeling the heat as well as a bit of claustrophobia.
Long before the interview begins, the detective has been gathering facts and information. Once she begins the interview, she uses structured questions to elicit information. She watches the suspect’s verbal, nonverbal, and paralinguistic behavior to establish a baseline for determining later suspect reactions. This behavioral observation is very important. If the detective thinks the suspect might be guilty of lying or of the crime, she moves into the interrogation part of the questioning. This becomes accusatory.
Once the interrogation begins, the detective confronts the suspect with the evidence against him. Here is where the detective can lie. She watches the person’s behavior and if it is suspicious, she goes on to the next step. This step involves creating a “theme,” or logical explanation about why or how the suspect was involved in the crime. This allows the suspect to agree that his actions might be excused or justified. She tries not to let the suspect deny his guilt, but instead listen to her.
If the suspect objects–“Oh, I could never do that!”–the detective plays into his objection and agrees with him. She tries to get the suspect to see that she is on his side and is an ally. The next step involves moving into possible reasons for the suspect’s motive. She offers several to the suspect, including some that might not be socially acceptable–“You’re right. The victim was blackmailing multiple people and deserved to die”–to some that might be somewhat socially acceptable–“You did it on the spur of the moment without thinking.”
If the suspect agrees with any of these motives, the detective leads him slowly into a confession. Then, in order to make the confession legal, she has him write it out with another witness or has it on videotape with two detectives present.
It would seem that if you are a suspect in a crime, the moral of the story for you is: Miranda Rights, “Call my attorney,” or “I’m not talking in accordance with the Constitution.” Fortunately for detectives, a lot of suspects aren’t very bright.