Interrogation: Definition, Techniques & Types

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Janell Blanco

Janell has an MBA, a Master's in Education, and a BS in Public Safety Management.

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Sasha Blakeley

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Interrogation is a process where law enforcement agents try to obtain information about a case by asking questions to people relevant to the case. Explore the definition and types of interrogation used by law enforcement officers, and examine a variety of different interrogation techniques. Updated: 10/15/2021

Interrogation Defined

An interrogation , in law enforcement, is when a representative from the agency collects information about a crime by questioning suspects, victims, or witnesses. The ultimate goal of an interrogation is to solve the crime.

An interrogation with a suspect can last a few minutes to several hours. An important factor in interrogations is that law enforcement agents can continue questioning suspects until they ask for a lawyer, which is a right under what we call the ''Miranda rights.'' Additionally, law enforcement agents are not allowed to use cruel and unusual punishment during the interrogation. Cruel and unusual punishment includes using physical force on a detained suspect. Getting a suspect to answer questions during an interrogation can be challenging, but law enforcement agents have to use lawful techniques when completing an interrogation.

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  • 0:04 Interrogation: Definition
  • 0:55 Interrogation: Techniques
  • 7:40 Interrogation: Types
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Interrogation Techniques

Officer Smith has the option of using different interrogation techniques. The most common technique is known as the Reid technique. The following nine steps are part of this technique.

1. Direct Confrontation

All the evidence is provided to the suspect with the police officer giving the suspect a chance to confess immediately. Officer Smith tells Dave that the neighbors saw him hit his wife and his wife has bruises on her arms. Officer Smith also shows Dave pictures of the handprint on his wife's face and tells Dave they can match the handprint from the picture to Dave's hand. If this does not work then the officer moves to the next step: dominance.

2. Dominance

The law enforcement agent does not let the suspect talk. Since Dave isn't speaking, Officer Smith is able to continue talking without being interrupted. Office Smith offers up different scenarios.

A) Dave didn't hit his wife. He was helping her because she was falling, and he grabbed her to keep her from hitting the ground.

B) Dave was upset and flung his hands and hit her by accident.

C) The domestic violence wasn't an accident, and Dave had a moment of rage and really meant to hit his wife.

Dave is still not speaking. He is not admitting or denying any of the scenarios that Officer Smith has given. Since dominance isn't working, the officer can use deflection.

3. Deflection

Officer Smith will now try to give moral justification for why Dave hit his wife. Deflection is also known as ''creating a theme,'' and the theme can change throughout the interview depending on how the suspect answers the questions.

Officer Smith creates a theme using the scenarios in the dominance step. Officer Smith justifies Dave's actions because it is only correct to help his wife who was falling. He also justifies Dave hitting his wife by creating the theme that it was an accident all around. She was either falling or he was flailing his hands and she walked into them.

Officer Smith also uses victim-blaming, saying that Dave was mad so she shouldn't have come close to Dave during this time of rage. She would not have been hit if she just walked away.

Dave finally starts to talk, and he objects to all of the themes. These objections give Officer Smith the opportunity to turn the objections into a justification for the domestic violence.

4. Turning Objections into Justifications

Dave tells Officer Smith that, ''I don't hit women because it is wrong.'' and ''I am not a violent person so I would not hit anyone.'' Officer Smith takes the objections and justifies the domestic violence. Officer Smith says, ''So you really didn't want to hit your wife, did you?'' and ''You are not violent, but when your wife got in your way, you had to hit her?'' Officer Smith was not able to get Dave to answer either of his justification questions, so he started showing empathy for Dave.

5. Expressing Empathy

Officer Smith expresses empathy for Dave. He tells Dave he understands what he is going through and that he gets irritated with his own wife. Officer Smith says that if Dave's wife wouldn't have argued with him she would not have been hurt. Dave once again remains silent and chooses not to speak with Officer Smith after he expressed empathy. Officer Smith will move to the next step of the Reid technique and will once again, create alternative themes.

6. Offering Alternative Themes

Dave is unresponsive during the empathy step. He doesn't answer Officer Smith's questions, so Officer Smith offers different themes and different scenarios. This time, when creating scenarios, Officer Smith focuses on Dave's duties to society. Officer Smith says, ''Dave, you will not confess because you're afraid you will lose your job and will not be able to see your kids.'' Officer Smith then says, ''You hit your wife to be the man of the house, and you didn't want to lose control over her.'' Dave becomes responsive to the scenario about losing his job and his children. He nods his head at Officer Smith, which is the first admission of guilt. Officer Smith continues on with the questioning by posing alternative questions about Dave's children and job.

7. Posing the Alternative Question

Posing an alternative question means Officer Smith will ask Dave about losing his job and children. He will say to Dave, ''You're afraid you will lose your job and that your children will not speak to you if you confess to hitting your wife?'' Dave responds, ''I hit my wife and didn't really mean to. I do not want to lose my children.'' Dave admits his guilt to Officer Smith, and he must now repeat the confession in front of other members of the agency.

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Additional Activities

Interrogation: Further Exploration

This lesson taught you about the nature of interrogation as part of the criminal justice process. Take a look at the following activities to explore this important concept in more detail.

Detainee Rights

Based on what is explained in this lesson, what rights does a detainee have if they are being interrogated? How can they invoke these rights? How can detainees use their legal rights to protect themselves from unlawful interrogation, and what recourse do they have if their rights are not granted? Write a paragraph explaining the answers to these questions in your own words. Imagine that this is advice that you might give to a client if you were a lawyer.

Problems with Interrogation

You may have heard about famous cases in which law enforcement officers did not follow legal protocol or bent the rules during interrogations. Compile a list of some of the cases that you can find where you believe that detainee rights were infringed upon during interrogations. Propose legislation or other solutions to these problems that could prevent law enforcement agents from unlawfully harming detainees.

Examples: The ''Louisiana Lawyer Dog'' case; cases of deceptive interrogation techniques; cruel and unusual punishment in interrogation.

Training and Ethics

Write a guide proposing your plan for how best to train law enforcement officers to perform legal and ethical interrogations of suspects that respect suspects' constitutional rights. Make sure that your proposal is within legal boundaries and uses previous cases to build upon existing training and legislation.

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