On Interrogation Techniques Used By Police

by Jamison Koehler on August 14, 2010

The “good cop, bad cop” routine has made for some pretty funny moments in film.  Think of Steve Martin in The Pink Panther trying to play both roles himself.  Or, to use a more recent example, think of Will Ferrell playing the even worse cop on The Other Guys: “I thought you said “bad cop, bad cop,” he explains to Mark Wahlberg. The routine can be amusing; it can also be an extremely effective way for police to get people to incriminate themselves.

Virginia criminal defense lawyer Bob Battle has put together a clever and informative list of the tricks police use to get suspects to talk.  While the list is worth reading in its entirety, I have reproduced three of the tricks below so that I can add a little commentary of my own.

“Only Guilty People Ask for Lawyers”

I was going to say that only sophisticated people ask for lawyers, but this is not true.  It is amazing how many otherwise savvy people, thinking they can talk their way out of trouble, fall for this trick. Police officers are professionals.  They have done this many times before.  They know that innocent people also refuse to talk. If anything, they will respect you more for not falling for their trap.

“Let’s Go Over This One More Time”

Police give you the impression that they are most interested in getting the facts straight, in making sure they have the whole story. In fact, they are giving you more rope to hang yourself, more opportunity to contradict yourself. Even minor details and inconsistencies can incriminate you. A couple of months ago, I watched the recorded statement of a client who ultimately told the same story seven different times.  The detective showed remarkable patience in taking the statement.

“Look, I’m trying to help you.  If you don’t tell me what we need to know, then it’s going to go very badly for you.”

This is a variation of the good guy/bad guy routine. You are tired, hungry, and scared.  You want to go home. There is a friendly face promising to help you help yourself. The officer is not trying to help you; he is trying to get you to incriminate yourself. Because that is part of his job. And the best way to make sure things DO go badly for you is to play into this trap.  As someone said, nobody ever goes to jail for not talking to the cops.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  Ask to see your lawyer.  Then shut up.  Really.

5 Comments on “On Interrogation Techniques Used By Police

  1. And let’s not forget: Police are trained it’s OK to lie to get what they want!

  2. And now you can hear something else from a non-master, not-even-a-lawyer, shlub off the interwebs: even if you do everything right and ask for your attorney and don’t answer any questions … don’t say things like “I can’t believe this is happening.” or “My life is over.” or “Dammit, dammit, dammit.” These comments have been cited as proof of mens rea in more than a few appeals cases that I’ve read.
    Actual attorneys are invited to dissent from my advice, of course. 😉

  3. JW is right…remember what u say or your action during arrest itself or interrogation play a pivital role in self incrimination and there is no better source of mens rea.R v Windle(1952).Defandant would have successfully claimed insanity under M’Naughten rule after murdering his wife was it not for the uttered statement to the police during arrest ”i guess they are going to punish me for this” which was used against the defence in proving the contrary to the claimed insanity.Lastly remember your mirinda rights ‘you have the right to remain silent anything you say or do can and will be used against you in the court of law’.you are innocent until proven guilty i.e you do not bear the onus of the burden of proof-Woolmington v Dpp(1935).Class dismissed.

  4. Guilty or not, “Silence is golden”. Being silent however, does play on your mind. You have this intense need to say something, it’s the self trying to protect the self, one of the sub-reasons for lying, you are protecting your self. Also remaining silent to derogatory remarks by an interrogator could prove to be more than one can handle and the passion to verbally strike back is not a good idea. Mirinda states that “anything you say can and will be used against you. Guilty or not, the most extreme advice is remain silent to include moans, groans, laughs or even farts.
    For an innocent individual this remaining silent is going to be exceedingly difficult. You did not do what you are accused of. It is self preservation that jumps up and roars to define why you did not do what you are suppose to have done.
    Personally, for me, Prosecutors have only one objective–get a conviction regardless of whether you are innocent. They don’t care. It is political for them and the more convictions they can get the better, even if it means sending a innocent person to prison.
    One thing missed, as I noticed, is behavior, how you conduct yourself. You can bet that even in your silence your behavior is being noted. Miranda does not cover behavior, but your conduct can give an LEO reason for suspicion.

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