Miranda Rights + Interrogations = Confessions
We’ve all heard police read a suspect his or her Miranda Rights on television shows and movies. We practically know the following warnings by heart: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”
Knowing these rights–then why do so many people confess to committing crimes after they are arrested? It’s one of the questions that puzzled me when I first started practicing law. I mean if police are questioning you about a crime–why wouldn’t you ask for an attorney before answering questions. The answer, I later learned, is simple: police use sophisticated and structured-interrogation techniques to extract confessions from suspects. For a complete discussion on this issue, see Fred. E. Inbau Et. AL., CRIMINAL INTERROGATIONS AND CONFESSIONS (4th ed. 2001).
Below are answers to frequently asked questions about interrogations based on Inbau’s manual.
1. What’s the difference between an interview and an interrogation?
- An interview is nonaccusatory and used by police to gather information. It’s usually conducted early in the case and under a variety of enviorments.
- An interrogation is accusatory. The interrogator tells the suspect that there is no doubt that the suspect committed the offense. The purpose of this statement is to persuade the suspect to tell the truth. Interrogations often, but not always, occur after an interview.
- Note: detectives do not use the word “interrogate” when they testify in court. Instead they describe the interrogation as a “conversation.”
2. How do police use an interrogation room to extract a confession?
- They use privacy between the suspect and the interrogator in the interview room to create an atmosphere that makes it easier to confess. It’s similar to talking to a friend about a personal matter–you usually do it one-on-one instead of at a party or other social situation where there are many people who can over hear the personal conversation.
- Police minimize the consequences of a suspect telling the truth. As Inbau wrote, “during an interview or especially an interrogation, it is psychologically improper to mention any consequences whatsoever of the possible negative effects a suspect may experience if he decides to tell the truth.” Id. at 57. In plain English–police do not tell a suspect that if he confesses to murder that he will be facing up to life imprisonment if he is convicted of the offense.
- Police also eliminate visual reminders about the possible consequences of a confession–Detectives are usually dressed in plain clothes and do not carry weapons, badges, or handcuffs. There are no certificates on the wall indicating that the interrogator successfully completed and advanced degree or certification in interrogation procedures and methods.
3. Can police lie to suspects during an interview or interrogation?
- Yes. Inbau states that, ‘[t]o persuade a guilty suspect to offer an admission against self-interest [i.e., confess], the investigator may have to falsely exaggerate his confidence in the suspect’s guilt, sympathize with the suspect’s situation, and display feelings toward the suspect or his crime that are far from genuine.” Id. at 427.
- We have seen examples of this type of trickery on many television shows such as NCIS. For instance, police walk into an interrogation room with a “case file.” During the interrogation, the interrogator motions to the case file and indicates to the suspect that the case against the suspect is “air tight.” Once the interrogation is over, we learn that the file is nothing but scrap paper. This is proper with one key exception. Police cannot create fake lab reports in Texas state courts to deceive a suspect. See Wilson v. State, 311 S.W.3d 452, 461-63 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010) (prohibiting police from manufacturing lab reports for use during interrogations).
So what do I do if police want me to come down to the police station for an interview? You should always consult with a qualified criminal defense attorney before being interviewed or interrogated by law enforcement.
Genaro R. Cortez