Tactics Police Use to Get Confessions

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July 25, 2022
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If you’ve been suspected of a crime, you should know that police have various tactics that they use to get people to confess. The tactics used will depend on the severity of the crime. For most misdemeanors, law enforcement will not be pressing hard for a confession. The exception may be an assault charge that results in bodily injury.  If one person slaps another in the face, for example, police typically won’t be using the tactics outlined below. But if that slap was hard enough to fracture a bone in the victim’s face, that’s a different story. Another exception might be harassment.

For the most part, law enforcement is looking to get confessions for felonies. First, the police will investigate. If probable cause or reasonable suspicion exists, then a suspect will be brought in for questioning.

Variety of Tools Used

Police have a number of techniques, or tactics, they use to solicit a confession from a person suspected of a crime. While a lesser felony might only call for one of them, law enforcement will use whatever ones are needed to get a confession for a serious crime. 

Lying: This is a legal tactic; police can lie to get a confession. An interrogator might say something is going to happen to the suspect’s family if they fail to cooperate, for example. Consider a person with undocumented parents or siblings. Police could say that those family members will be deported. The truth is, they can say it, but they can’t actually do it.  

If another person was at the crime scene, an interrogator may say that the other person placed all the blame on them, even if this is not the case. Or, an interrogator may claim to have evidence of the person’s involvement in the crime even though it may not exist–though, in reality, this typically happens only if evidence actually does exist.

Intimidation: This is another legal tactic used by law enforcement. Most often, police will try to isolate the suspect so that they have no contact with others. They might leave the person in an interrogation room for hours with nothing to eat or drink. Some may break down under such circumstances because they are scared, or unstable to begin with. Such confessions can be invalidated with the right legal strategy.

Closely related to intimidation is coercion. Coercion is illegal. Some states outright do not allow this tactic to be used. If proven that a confession was coerced from a suspect, the case will be thrown out. The use of violence is also illegal and confessions made under the threat of violence will not hold up in court.

Good Cop, Bad Cop: Most have heard this expression or have seen it play out on television or in the movies. Two interrogators take on two very different roles. The “bad” cop is harsh and threatening. He or she might say something like, “You’re going to jail for the rest of your life.” When they exit the interrogation room, the “good” cop stays behind. He or she might say something like, “I know he’s all worked up, but I can help you…just work with me on this.”

Lie Detector Test: Police may offer to administer this test so that the suspect can “prove” their innocence. While this is legal, a person can decline to take a lie detector test. In court, this might make the defendant appear more guilty to a jury, but a good criminal law attorney will know how to sway this attitude. Moreover, these tests are not 100% foolproof, which serves as another argument to be made by a defense team.

DNA Collection: Suspects being interrogated cannot be forced to provide a DNA sample. Similarly, blood cannot be drawn without a judge’s order. But there is a sneaky (and legal) way for police to collect a person’s DNA. They might offer a cigarette or cup of something to drink, then bag and send the evidence off to a lab for analysis. This tactic would most likely be used for serious crimes, such as a rape case where DNA samples were taken from the victim.

In all of the interviews I have conducted, nearly all suspects were very forthcoming so these tactics weren’t necessary. Suspects would speak up because they wanted to defend their actions. They believed that they were not at fault. We would allow them to explain the scenario that led up to the incident, which would essentially lead to a confession.

Protect Yourself from Making a Confession

If questioned by law enforcement about a crime, it’s helpful to know the techniques that may be used to get someone talking. But before any type of interrogation can take place, Miranda rights need to be read first! Anything a suspect may say prior to having their Miranda rights read to them is inadmissible in court. 

You may have often heard this phrase: “You have a right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” This is your constitutional right under the 5th amendment, which provides that no one “...shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself…”. You should invoke this right and remain silent when the police question you. 

You also have a constitutional right to have an attorney present during police interrogations. If you are taken in for questioning, you should tell them that you want your lawyer to be present. Once you inform the police of this, they cannot question you unless your attorney is in the interrogation room with you.

Finally, if police are bringing in someone for interrogation that usually means that they still need more information, and they want to get it from the suspect. If they had a slam dunk case, the suspect would be arrested, not just brought in for interrogation. 

How You Can Avoid This Situation

If you are suspected of committing a crime and are brought in for questioning, the only information you have to provide is your name, address, and date of birth. Beyond that, you should say nothing without consulting a criminal law attorney. At Rosenblum Law, we have over 25 years of experience and have helped thousands of clients all throughout New York and New Jersey. Each case we handle is assigned to an attorney with a full-time case manager to assure the best possible representation.

Author Bio

Kent Ng

NYPD (Ret.) Of Rosenblum Law

Kent Ng was sworn in as a police officer in the early 90's and during his patrolman duties has responded and dealt with many vehicular accidents.

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