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Why the Innocent May Falsely Confess: A Perusal of the Reid Model of Interrogation - Estelle Brooks

Police officers are aware that confessions to crimes are powerful pieces of probative evidence in their criminal investigations.1 A method employed by numerous Canadian police officers to secure that such probative evidence is obtained is through the utilization of the Reid Model of Interrogation.2 However, myriad academic studies have determined that this interrogation model increases the chances of inducing false confessions from innocent individuals and is thus a contributing factor to miscarriages of justice in Canada.3 The following discussion will contextualize the flaws in this interrogation method and how such flaws can lead to innocent individuals confessing to offences they did not commit.

This interrogation technique, originally developed by polygraphist John Reid, consists of a two-step procedure: a behavioural analysis interview (BAI), followed by a nine-step accusatory interrogation.4 The former is non-accusatory in nature and allows the officer to gather behavioural information from the suspect to interpret and evaluate his or her guilt.5 As there is no objective guidance provided to officers concerning how to score the pattern of answers to the BAI queries, officers are left to determine the innocent from the guilty.6 Those who are determined guilty are subjected to the latter nine-step interrogation.7

The first step of the psychologically coercive nature of the nine-step Reid model begins with the interrogator confronting the suspect with the maximizing method of unwavering assertions of guilt, followed by the minimization tactic of presenting themes which rationalize or excuse the crime.8 Interrogators are taught that confessions occur rarely after suspects are confronted about their guilt and that they should expect guilty individuals to deny the offense.9 Therefore, the primary goal of this third step is for the interrogator to prevent the suspect from denying involvement to the crime by reconfirming belief in the suspect’s guilt and reiterating the proposed theme after denials have been voiced.10 This is followed by the interrogator overcoming emotional, moral, or factual objections given by the suspect who states he or she could not, or would not, have committed the crime, as it is asserted by this model that a suspect’s objections to a crime is an indication of deception.11 After being discouraged from expressing denials and having their objections turned away, the suspect may become psychologically withdrawn and ignore the interrogator.12 Therefore, the interrogator employs tactics to maintain the suspect’s attention, such as inching their chair forward into the suspect’s physical space or increasing direct eye contact.13

After the suspect’s attention is attained they are presumed to be more willing to listen, whereby an interrogator will then display understanding and urge them to tell the truth until the suspect presents signs of mentally considering whether to tell the truth, such as with the nonverbal agreement of nodding one’s head.14 Alternative questions or explanations for the crime are presented which allows the interrogator to attain incriminating admissions from the suspect.15 After the suspect has made an admission of guilt, the interrogator is encouraged to present signs of sharing the suspect’s relief and to draw them into a conversation to fully develop the confession.16 The final step involves the interrogator converting the suspect’s oral statement into a written confession.17

The first concern with this model of interrogation is that it is a guilt-presumptive process led by an officer who has formulated a guilty belief about the suspect, through the BAI, and who measures success by obtaining a confession through the nine-step interrogation.18 This guilt-presumption thus provides fertile ground for the operation of cognitive and behavioural confirmation.19 In an experiment which demonstrates this point, Kassin and colleagues discovered that in a mock crime scenario, interrogators who presumed the suspects were guilty asked more guilt-presumptive questions, conducted more coercive interrogations, and endeavoured harder to have the suspects confess.20

An interrogator’s presumption of a suspect’s guilt also possesses the potential to impact the reliability of their confession.21 Research conducted by Horselenberg and colleagues discovered that when individuals were presented with false incriminating evidence by employing tactics of the Reid method, it caused them “…to internalize blame for the outcomes they did not produce” and were more willing to sign a false confession.22 A plethora of research has also shown that the chances of obtaining a false confession increase when officers utilize the Reid method with vulnerable populations, such as the intellectually disabled or mentally ill.23 Research has also shown that interrogators who possess a presumption that suspects are guilty, increase their usage of minimization tactics and utilize statements which morally justify or minimize the offence.24 This tactic has been attested to lead suspects to believe that leniency will follow from a confession and has also been shown to elicit false confessions.25

Despite the Supreme Court ruling in Oickle which clarified the voluntariness of any statement made to officers by a suspect and the extent to which the officers used threats, promises, oppressive tactics, or police trickery with a suspect to elicit a confession, and the extent to which the suspect possessed an operating mind, some inferior courts seem less convinced of the probative value of the Reid model’s tactics to elicit a true confession.26 As Judge Dinkel stated in Chapple, “I denounce the use of this technique in the strongest terms possible and find that its use can lead to overwhelmingly oppressive situations that can render false confessions and cause innocent people to be wrongfully imprisoned.”27

In an attempt to overcome the miscarriages of justice that can result from using the Reid method, countries have implemented the PEACE model of interviewing; an acronym which stands for preparation, engage, account, closure, and evaluation.28 This model is neither guilt-presumptive nor overly confrontational, but rather moves the focus of the interrogation away from obtaining a confession to forming a full and accurate account of the event.29 While only a small sampling of officers from the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary have been trained with the PEACE model, reform to other law enforcement agencies across Canada to exchange the Reid technique for the PEACE model is warranted in order to minimize coerced false confessions and prevent individuals from being wrongfully convicted.30


1 Brent Snook, Joseph Eastwood, & W. Todd Barron, “The Next Stage in the Evolution of Interrogations: The PEACE Model” (2014) 8:2 Can Crim L Rev 219.

2 Brent Snook, Joseph Eastwood, Michael Stinson, John Tedeschini, & John C. House, “Reforming Investigative Interviewing in Canada” (2010) 52:2 Can J of Crime and Crim Jus 215.

3 Snook, Eastwood, & Barron, supra note 1.

4 Saul M. Kassin, “False Confessions: Causes, Consequences, and Implications for Reform” (2014) 1:1 Pol Insights from the Behav and Brain Sci 112.

5 Snook, Eastwood, & Barron, supra note 1.

6 Snook, Eastwood, Stinson, Tedeschini, & House, supra note 2.

7 Gisli H. Gudjonsson & John Pearse, “Suspect Interviews and False Confessions” (2011) 20:1 Cur Dir in Psych Sci 33.

8 Snook, Eastwood, & Barron, supra note 1.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid.

18 Kassin, supra note 4.

19 Saul M. Kassin, “The Social Psychology of False Confessions” (2015) 9:1 Soc Iss and Pol Rev 25.

20 Ibid.

21 Kassin, supra note 4.

22 Robert Horselenberg, Harald Merckelbach, & Sarah Josephs, “Individual Differences and False Confessions: A Conceptual Replication of Kassin and Kiechel (1996)” (2003) 9:1 Psychol, Crime & L 1 at page 6.

23 Snook, Eastwood, & Barron, supra note 1.

24 Kassin, supra note 4.

25 Snook, Eastwood, Stinson, Tedeschini, & House, supra note 2.

26 R . v. Oickle, 2000 SCC 38 [Oickle].

27 R. v. Chapple, 2012 ABPC 229 at para. 122 [Chapple].

28 Snook, Eastwood, Stinson, Tedeschini, & House, supra note 2.

29 Gudjonsson & Pearse, supra note 7.

30 Ibid.

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