Interviewing suspects can make or break a case. The way an officer questions a suspect, can influence the responses given to them. Even though psychologists have helped advance the way officers interrogate their suspects, particular psychological tactics have the capability to put innocents at risk of confessing to a crime that they did not commit (Kassin 2008). The method in which an officer questions their suspects differs cross-culturally, as different approaches are favoured in different parts of the world. This makes it quite simple therefore to judge which approach to questioning can have a greater impact in producing truthful and accurate confessions from suspects.
The information gathering approach, prominent in the United Kingdom and Australia, aims to be less confrontational in its method of questioning suspects. It revolves around the notion to simply gain information from the suspect so they have the full picture of their investigation (Meissner et al 2014). The PEACE Model (Planning and Preparation, Engage and Explain, Account, Closure and Evaluation) was developed after the introduction of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984 which reformed the codes of practice of the police forces in the United Kingdom. This model is effective as it encourages the suspect to speak freely without interruption – only when the suspect has finished talking can the interrogator use contradictory evidence or ask further questions. Open questions and the interrogator building rapport and establishing truth are key to this model as they produce answers that are less likely to have been tampered with from the interrogator, and that their account isn’t restricted but free-flowing (College of Policing UK 2013). However, research has found that there is an urgent need for officers to undergo training so that the PEACE model can be used effectively and consistently – particularly with their rapport building and summarising (Walsh et al 2008).
Holmberg and Christianson (2002) collected a sample from violent offenders who were convicted of serious crimes. The sample was collected via a questionnaire which asked the offenders about the ways in which they were interrogated. The two main categories that came from the results were either ‘humane’ or ‘dominating’. The researchers found that the prisoners were more inclined to be truthful when the interrogators used a more humane approach to their questioning, rather than a dominating and confrontational one (Holmberg and Christianson 2002). This suggests that an information gathering approach may be more effective in order to produce truthful confessions as it suggests that interrogators establishing rapport and gaining trust from the suspect is more effective than being pressurised into giving a confession that they may not be responsible for.
An approach prominent in the United States is the accusatorial approach which focuses more on the interrogator being confrontational with the suspect whilst holding the presumption of guilt (Meissner et al 2014). Techniques in this approach can include using false evidence to induce a confession out of the suspect, also minimisation techniques which suggest the law will be lenient to the suspect if they give the police what they want. This approach can be harmful to innocents as the techniques used build up a certain amount of pressure, increasing risks of false confessions because suspects believe it is the only way they can escape punishment (Kassin 2008). Alongside the presumption of guilt coming from the interrogator, the likelihood of false confessions increases (Baldwin 1993).
Further research into the accusatorial approach found interrogations can be split into two stages: the ‘pre-admission phase’ and the ‘post-admission narrative’ (Oshe & Leo 1997). The first stage is to make the suspect believe that they will be arrested and convicted, thus probing them to confess to a crime that they may not have done. The interrogator must act as if they are absolutely certain of the suspects guilt therefore predetermined to be put pressure onto the suspect. In the second stage, the suspects are induced to confess, through ways in which they will end up believe confessing will be better than keeping up the notion that they are innocent. This is important as this research shows that both the guilty and innocent can be influenced through an officer’s interrogation because they believe the consequences will be less dire if they did, in fact, confess (Blair 2007). Identifying that false a confession can occur may encourage the police to be more aware of the techniques they use. This, combined with appropriate training, will make officers identify what could be a false arrest and confession (Ofshe and Leo 1997).
The risk of having interrogators producing false confessions from their suspects is very serious as it can have real implications on court trials that are convened, based on evidence gathered by police. Leo & Ofshe (1998) state that, after evaluating 60 cases where no factually accurate evidence against the suspect was found, there is a great risk of a miscarriage of justice. To prevent this from happening, information gathering techniques would be better off being used in police interviews as they are far less likely to produce false confessions than the confrontational techniques which put pressure on the suspect (Meissner et al 2014). In the United States, reform would be needed as over 200 exonerations are due to false confessions, therefore techniques such as PEACE and developing rapport with suspects may result in falsehoods being diminished, thus fewer convictions based on inaccurate confessions (University of Michigan 2018). Further research may involve testing different interrogation techniques in different cultures to see if they achieve a better outcome than the normal standards of interrogation. Training needs to be provided for officers so that they are interrogating their suspects with the goal of obtaining as much information as they can in order to secure the right conviction. This research shows that the behaviour of the interviewer is very influential in producing results in the interrogation room. Using non-confrontational psychological methods that encourage detail, will increase the likelihood of obtaining a true confession, rather than a false one.