Psychology and Law: Truthfulness, Accuracy and Credibility

By Amina Memon; Aldert Vrij et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
INTERVIEWING SUSPECTS
How to Get the Suspect to Talk58
How to Let the Suspect Talk65
How Many Suspects Confess and Why?68
Quality of the Interview71
False Confessions76
Summary and Conclusion85

Most police officers perceive interviewing of suspects to be the critical stage in criminal investigations (Baldwin, 1994). The purpose of a police interview of a suspect is to obtain further information about a crime. The importance of the interview depends on the evidence available in the case. When there is substantial evidence, which might be present in as many as 88 per cent of criminal cases (Wagenaar, van Koppen & Crombag, 1993), the interview would be used to clarify unsolved issues (such as the whereabouts of stolen goods, the motives of the criminal, and so on). The cooperation of a suspect is often necessary to resolve such issues but is not crucial for a conviction. An example is the case of Dr Shipman, the British general practitioner found guilty of murdering 15 women. He received 15 life sentences on 31 January 2000. Shipman denied all 15 charges, and the 57-day trial uncovered no obvious motive for the killings. He was convicted merely on the basis of the evidence against him. (An independent inquiry, carried out after his conviction, revealed that he had murdered at least 215 people, according to the Independent, 20 July 2002.)

When there is no evidence, the interview is used to obtain valid information in order to link the suspect or someone else to the crime. The cooperation of a suspect could then be crucial to solve the crime. It is therefore important for the police to induce suspects to talk. The implicit assumptions in most of the police literature are that suspects are very likely to be guilty, are not cooperative during police interviews and prefer to remain silent (Ofshe & Leo, 1997a). As a result of such assumptions, the police officer must force the suspect to talk. A comprehensive review of tactics the police use to achieve this is provided by

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