Free «Interviews and Interrogations» Essay

Interviews and Interrogations

Interviews and interrogations are the integral parts of any legal process, facilitating the search of the criminal. Actually, it is not an easy task to get a suspect to confess to a crime. It is rather a complex procedure, which requires special techniques, training, and deep knowledge. The most important thing every police officer should know while interrogating a supposed criminal is the limit of his/her powers and the rights of a suspect.

Being arrested a person should be properly advised of his/her Miranda rights – namely, the Fifth Amendment right against forced self incrimination. The right to counsel means that a supposed criminal has the right to retain a lawyer before the questioning starts. The Miranda warnings include the right to remain silent, which implies the right to refuse to give any answers to questions or to provide the police with any information. This prevents a suspect from making an involuntary confession. Therefore, the police has to inform a crime suspect clearly and completely that he/she has the right to silence; anything he/she does or says can and will be used against him/her; he/she has the right to have a lawyer present before and in the course of the interrogation; and, besides, a suspect has the right, if he/she is not capable to afford the services of a lawyer, to have one assigned at public expense, to represent his/her interests before and during the interrogation. Hereby, the Miranda rule strives to exclude suspect ignorance as a contributing element to the involuntary confessions.

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On the other hand, simply informing a suspect of his/her rights does not fully accomplish the Miranda rule. A supposed criminal must voluntarily waive his/her Miranda rights before the interrogation can proceed. Julia Layton (2006) has noted, “In the United States, as many as 80 percent of suspects waive their rights to silence and counsel, allowing police to conduct a full-scale interrogation.” Nevertheless, the waiver has to be “knowing and intelligent” and, of course, “voluntary.” Essentially, this implies that a suspect has understood his/her rights and the aftereffects of forgoing these rights. Undoubtedly, if he/she was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or suffered from a psychological or mental disorder, the court probably would conclude that the suspect’s waiver was not knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. Therewith, the waiver has to be lucid and unequivocal. If the suspect’s statement is ambiguous, the police officers are allowed to ask questions to clear up the suspect’s intentions. Thus, the police officers can ignore the ineffective statements and continue with the interrogation.

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In order to reduce doubts about the voluntary nature of confessions, audio and video equipment is used in the course of the interrogation. In fact, there is a variety of reasons for introducing the practice of audio- and video-recording. Most police officers use this equipment to avoid defense lawyers’ challenges of the completeness of the written confession and to memorize the evidence of the suspects when testifying. Moreover, the video surveillance is usually installed to eliminate police abuse of force and to defend police officers of unjust accusations of brutality. The other important objectives of using audio and video technology by the police are the following: showing the physical condition of a suspect, documenting the notification of a suspect in respect of his/her constitutional rights, and assisting in mental health evaluation of a suspect. William A. Geller (1993) has noticed, “The vast majority of surveyed agencies that videotape interviews believed that videotaping has led to improvements in police interrogations.” He has enumerated several positive contributions made by this special equipment to the interrogation process. Firstly, the investigators prepare for the interviews more properly. Secondly, it provides the possibility to show the accomplice’s recorded confession to an uncooperative crime suspect and thereby probably provoke a change in his/her mode of behavior. Thirdly, videos may help the police assess a suspect’s innocence or guilt in general efficiently and accurately. Thus, audio- and video-recording turns out to be a decidedly useful tool, which provides details impossible to apprehend from written notes or confessions.

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Any structured interview or interrogation is impossible without note-taking. First, it helps the police officers concentrate on the main aspects of suspect’s behavior during the interrogation. Fixing investigator’s questions, suspect’s answers, and some peculiarities of nonverbal behavior contribute greatly to the general scheme of a case. Besides, taking notes following each answer slackens the pace of the questioning. Obviously, it is much easier to lie to a sequence of questions asked in rapid succession than to the same questions asked with pauses of six or eight seconds. It has been observed that innocent suspects feel comfortable with the silence created during note-taking. They understand that the officer is simply writing down their answers, and they wait for the next questions without anxiety. Deceptive suspects, on the contrary, feel uncomfortable with these silent pauses. Because of the fact that their original answer to the question was not truthful, they can readjust or modify it in the course of the time in which the officer takes notes. Such mode of behavior can help to identify deception. What is more, after having taken notes during the interrogation, the police officer may review them in some days or weeks and reconstruct the suspect’s essential verbal and nonverbal answers. This is rather advantageous when several suspects have been questioned on the same case. Using the notes taken during the interviews, the officer can make necessary comparisons and identify who can be eliminated as a crime suspect. It is important to remember that written notes should be taken following every answer. Otherwise, if occasional notes are taken following selected answers, it will result in causing a suspect to be hesitant and wary in providing further information.

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The police officer should develop a four-step plan to ensure interrogation success. Firstly, the investigator introduces the key facts of the case and advises a suspect of the evidence against him/her. Usually, suspects deny the allegations; thus, investigators try to interrupt or stop all denials. Otherwise, a suspect will feel more confident and believe that he/she can avoid admitting his/her involvement in the crime. Investigators may uphold better control of the questioning process by constantly stating suspect’s relation to the crime. At this phase of the interrogation, deceptive suspects can stop suggesting denials and start offering justifications and excuses for their actions. Then, if they again raise objections, interrogators are allowed to present additional arguments and themes. Some themes apply to the specific crimes; others are universal. Those arguments convince suspects to tell the truth in spite of consequences. It is a well-known fact that, without thoroughly prepared arguments and themes, interrogation is likely to fail. The final phase of any interrogation deals with creating a higher motivation to tell the truth. To reach this effect, officers may ask alternative or closing questions. Hereby, alternative questions imply asking suspects, for example, if they have planned the crime or committed it unconsciously, or if they have stolen something to help their families or because of drug addiction. Any positive answers to these questions reveal the avowal of guilt or involvement in the crime by a suspect. Consequently, developing such a plan permits investigators to monitor the progress of the interrogation and to obtain the confessions and all necessary information that can lead to settling criminal cases successfully.

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Knowledge of the subject and the incident stands as one of the most essential factors in conducting successful interviews and interrogations. It includes environmental considerations and setting, familiarity with the suspect’s background, and knowledge of the case facts. Investigators must not conduct interrogations unless they can assure control and privacy of the environment. Besides, understanding and analyzing case facts remain crucial to any interrogation. For instance, knowledge of how a crime took place can be an efficient persuasive method. Nevertheless, officers should exercise caution in applying the technique. While presenting crime facts to a suspect, they must ensure that all appear correct. Otherwise, investigators risk losing credibility that increases the possibility of interrogation failures. Another critical factor in succeeding in the interview is acquiring adequate background information about the suspects. Actually, the more police officers know about the suspects they interrogate, the better their chances for success.

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Therefore, all participants of any legal process should be aware that interviews and interrogations are of immense importance for resolving criminal cases successfully. Understanding the interrogation procedure, preparing adequately, observing legal and ethical norms, and respecting the suspect’s values and needs remain paramount in reaching successful interrogations. Properly addressing the mentioned factors will greatly contribute to raising the number of confessions received from involved or guilty suspects and to decreasing the number of cases when police officers are deluded by these individuals.

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