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False confessions linked to controversial police tactic

California residents may find it hard to understand why innocent individuals would confess to crimes that they did not commit. Media reports about wrongly convicted individuals being released after lengthy periods of imprisonment often feature accounts of intensive police interrogations that yielded false confessions, and psychologists who have studied the phenomenon have generally concluded that police tactics designed to wear down stubborn suspects are often to blame.

One police tactic that is frequently connected with false confessions is known as the Reid Technique. This approach is designed to jar loose information from truculent suspects by keeping them off balance with unconnected questions that are asked in a confrontational and hostile manner. However, psychologists say that emotionally vulnerable suspects are easily overwhelmed in such situations, and they may confess to crimes that they are innocent of just to end the experience.

The young and poorly educated are particularly prone to reacting badly when the Reid Technique is used, but the naive may be in the greatest peril. Psychologists say that false confessions are frequently made by individuals who are unconcerned about the possible consequences because they believe in the fairness and impartiality of the criminal justice system and feel that their innocence will be enough to keep them out of prison.

Veteran law enforcement officers may also be skilled at developing rapport with suspects by appearing sympathetic and promising to advocate on their behalf. This tactic is often employed to create an atmosphere of camaraderie and to prevent suspects from invoking their rights. Criminal defense attorneys who have experienced such approaches in action will likely advise their clients to answer no questions without a lawyer being present, and they may seek to avoid the emotional manipulation of their clients by keeping police interviews brief and confined to relevant matters.

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