Talking to the Police: A Smart Move or a Ticket to Incarceration?

When someone is suspected of a crime, it is often a time of great frustration.  The fear and anxiety set in and one questions whether or not they will have their freedom taken away.  Many people feel that talking to the police and cooperating is a smart move.  The reality is that nothing can be further from the truth.  How and what you should vary from county to county.  To provide a general overview of this topic, we are going to discuss how the Michigan State Police handle interrogation and what you should know about protecting yourself and your freedom.

   “The Reid Technique”

When the Michigan State Police do an interrogation, they utilize “The Reid Technique,” which is a form of questioning that has led to many false confessions.  “Reid” was used in cases such as “The West Memphis Three,” Brendan Dassey, and “The Central Park Five,” all of which led to a false confession and innocent people that became incarcerated.

The nine-step process involved in the “Reid Technique” that is utilized by the Michigan State Police Department and other law enforcement agencies consist of the following:

  1. Direct confrontation. Advise the suspect that the evidence has led the police to the individual as a suspect.
  2. Offer the person an early opportunity to explain why the offense took place.
  3. Try to shift the blame away from the suspect to some other person or set of circumstances that prompted the suspect to commit the crime. That is, develop themes containing reasons that will psychologically justify or excuse the crime. Topics may be developed or changed to find one to which the accused is most responsive.
  4. Try to minimize the frequency of suspect denials.
  5. At this point, the accused will often give a reason why he or she did not or could not commit the crime.
  6. Try to use this to move towards the acknowledgment of what they did.
  7. Reinforce sincerity to ensure that the suspect is receptive.

The suspect will become quieter and listen. Move the theme discussion towards offering alternatives. If the suspect cries at this point, infer guilt.

Pose the “alternative question,” giving two choices for what happened; one more socially acceptable than the other. The suspect is expected to choose the more comfortable option, but whichever alternative the suspect chooses, guilt is admitted. As stated above, there is always a third option, which is to maintain that they did not commit the crime.

  1. Lead the suspect to repeat the admission of guilt in front of witnesses and develop corroborating information to establish the validity of the confession.
  2. Document the suspect’s admission or confession and have him or she prepares a recorded statement (audio, video, or written).

To gain more insight on how this technique is used and how speaking to the police can affect your freedom, we spoke to several lawyers that are respected across our state.  The commentary from these attorneys brings a lot of concern to the general public.

William Amadeo is a partner at McManus and Amadeo in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and is known as the top criminal defense lawyer in Washtenaw County, Michigan. When asked about talking to the police and “The Reid Technique,” Amadeo said, “There is no set rule.  The way that Washtenaw County and Wayne County utilized police interviews are very different.  In Wayne County, you can pass a polygraph, and the prosecutor may not care.  The polygraph can be the key to success, but so can be keeping your mouth shut.  It truly varies from county to county.”

Jennifer Kelley is a Senior Associate for McManus and Amadeo and a top family law attorney in Michigan.  When asked about speaking to the police, Kelley stated, “In CPS cases we see a lot of deception.  I think one thing that most people forget is that the police are not always there to do a fair investigation.  Instead, they are looking for a confession.  I would say that the defendant should always proceed with caution.”

Lane Zabawa is one of the top criminal defense lawyers in Kent County, Michigan, and provided his thoughts on the issue.  Zabawa stated, “The Reid Technique is flawed.  There is no question that when you speak to the police, that technique or a version of it will be utilized.  Innocence people can end up in prison if they are not prepared.”

While the concept of speaking to the police seems like a black and white issue, there is no question that it is the ultimate shade of gray. The danger of the “Reid Technique” and the risks involved can lead to unnecessary prosecutions.  Knowledge of the issues is key to protecting your future.

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