How Law Enforcement Can Coerce Confessions


During police questioning, the truth is expected of the person being questioned. Therefore, it is natural to infer that the same would be true of the police. However, this is simply not the case: law enforcement officers are allowed to lie and mislead people they are interrogating in order to obtain admission or information.

Unfortunately, these tactics can be common parts of interrogations and often leave people feeling confused and misled at best - and confessing to crimes they did not commit at worst. In this post, we will dive deeper into the types of tactics law enforcement might implement in interrogations.

Deceitful Interrogation

It can be incredibly stressful to be accused of a crime and come face-to-face with law enforcement, especially if they falsely insist that they have collected sufficient evidence to prove your guilt. Unfortunately, in some cases, this is a tactic used by law enforcement to coerce confessions from innocent people.

Examples of lies and claims may include:

  • Saying a companion confessed to the crime already
  • Minimizing the seriousness of the crime to get you to confess
  • Claiming they have specific evidence against you

If this happens, it is important for those accused to remember that just because law enforcement says that there is strong evidence against them, it does not mean that the claims are true. The best recourse in such circumstances is to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help ensure that the rights of the accused person are protected.

Lighter Sentencing

In some police interrogations, law enforcement may promise a suspect leniency when it comes to their sentence in exchange for a confession. This offer may be backed up by 'strong evidence', which may not be existent. With this false reassurance, some suspects feel like they must confess to avoid dire consequences, such as lengthy prison sentences or even the death penalty. As a result, innocent people may end up confessing to crimes they didn’t commit.

Interrogation Pressure

After extended periods of tactical questioning meant to break people down, those being interrogated often become desperate for any possible solution to make the pressuring situation stop. Interrogations can sometimes become so overwhelming that innocent individuals feel they have no other choice than to agree with what their interrogators are saying and make a false confession. In more severe cases, some individuals may even believe they are guilty when they are not.

The Reid Technique

The Reid Technique is a widely used interrogation method utilized by law enforcement to extract a confession from an individual they suspect is guilty, regardless of their actual innocence. This nine-step process, focused on deeming the suspect as guilty and subsequently proving it, utilizes deceptive tactics such as playing on the emotions of the accused. Such tactics can be counterintuitive and put tremendous strain upon suspects which can sometimes convince them to falsely admit guilt in order to end intense interrogations.

The Reid Technique interrogation steps include:

  1. Positive Confrontation: “The investigator tells the suspect that the evidence demonstrates the person’s guilt. If the person’s guilt seems clear to the investigator, the statement should be unequivocal.”
  2. Theme Development: The investigator presents a moral justification (theme) for the offense such as placing the moral blame on another person or outside circumstances to make the offense seem right. This theme is presented to the suspect in a sympathetic manner.
  3. Handling Denials: When the suspect asks for permission to speak (most likely to deny the accusations), the investigator should discourage allowing the suspect to do so. The Reid website states that suspects who are innocent are less likely to ask for permission and will instead “promptly” deny accusations. Additionally, the website also states that innocent suspects typically do not move past this stage.
  4. Overcoming Objections: “When attempts at denial do not succeed, a guilty suspect often makes objections to support a claim of innocence (e.g., I would never do that because I love my job.)” The investigator will generally accept these objections as though they are truthful. Instead of arguing with the suspect, the investigator will use these objections to further develop the theme.
  5. Procurement and Retention of Suspect’s Attention: The investigator will move the suspect’s attention to focus on the investigator’s theme instead of on possible punishments that may result in further denial. A method the investigator may use is getting closer in proximity to the suspect to regain their focus and attention.
  6. Handling the Suspect’s Passive Mood: In this stage, the suspect may begin to cry or express defeated posture such as “slumped head and shoulder, relaxed legs and a vacant stare.” The investigator will continue to stress the theme elements and intensify them and concentrate on central reasoning in a sympathetic tone. For example, the suspect was involved in an armed robbery. The theme is based on the suspect having no other choice to pay bills and was desperate. The investigator may continue to say: “I’m sure you knew it was wrong, but you were just so stressed. You had so many mouths to feed at home and money was running low. This money was the only way for you to get back on your feet and save your family.”
  7. Presenting an Alternative Question: The investigator will usually present two choices to the suspect. One assuming the suspect’s guilt and is developed as a “logical extension from the theme,” and another alternative offering a better reason for the crime. For example, “Did you plan this or was it something that happened out of the spur of the moment?” The investigator may also follow their question with a supporting statement to encourage the suspect to choose the more “understandable” reason.
  8. Having the Suspect Orally Relate Various Details of the Offense: After the suspect accepts one side of the question, they have therefore admitted guilt. The investigator will then try to obtain a brief oral review of the basic events of the offense before asking more detailed questions.
  9. Converting an Oral Confession to a Written Confession: The investigator will convert the oral confession into a written or recorded confession.

The intensity of the Reid Technique can make innocent suspects confess under pressure. The procedure heavily utilizes a “guilt-presumptive nature” that can lead to false confessions.

At Jetton & Meredith, PLLC, we understand the fear and complexity of being falsely accused and coerced into a confession. If you are in this situation, our experienced criminal defense attorneys will work tirelessly to gain legal justice for you.

We respect our client’s rights. Our team is dedicated to handling your case with integrity and skill. No matter what accusations have been made against you, rest assured that our firm will protect you from manipulative interrogation tactics and be by your side throughout the litigation process.

Call today at (704) 931-5535.