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Controversial police technique linked to false confessions

Tennessee residents will likely have read media reports of individuals who have spent years in prison for crimes that in actuality they did not commit. Many of them are astonished to discover that innocent individuals had often been convicted after making false confessions to police officers, but psychologists who have studied law enforcement methods say that this is not surprising. They say that false confessions are often extracted from vulnerable suspects using a controversial tactic known as the Reid Technique.

Prying loose relevant information from truculent and stubborn suspects is a constant challenge for police officers investigating serious crimes, and the technique is employed to prevent suspects from relaxing and keep them in an agitated state. It involves police officers badgering suspects with unconnected questions for hours on end in a hostile and confrontational manner. The goal is to uncover discrepancies or inconsistencies in a suspect's story, but this tactic can also push innocent suspects into making false confessions just to put an end to the interrogation.

Individuals who make false confessions tend to be vulnerable in one way or another and unprepared for the psychological pressure of the Reid Technique. They are sometimes young and have little experience with law enforcement tactics, or they may be poorly educated and wary of authority.

While police are required to inform people accused of committing serious crimes of their rights to remain silent and to ask for an attorney, they could also be skilled at establishing rapport and seeming sympathetic. Police officers at times will mislead suspects and tell them that asking for a lawyer or maintaining their innocence will only make things worse. Experienced criminal defense attorneys will likely advise their clients to say nothing to a law enforcement officer without legal representation, and they may seek to have confessions dismissed when questions arise concerning the behavior of the police officers involved.

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