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TUCoPS :: Wetware Hacking :: Others :: confess.txt

Getting suspects to confess: how it's done

                     WHY SUSPECTS CONFESS

     Many criminal cases, even when investigated by the most
experienced and best qualified investigators, are ultimately
solved by an admission or confession from the person responsible
for committing the crime.  Oftentimes, investigators are able to
secure only a minimal amount of evidence, be it physical or
circumstantial, that points directly to a suspect, and in many
instances, this evidence is not considered strong enough by
prosecutors to obtain a conviction.  In such cases, the
interrogation of the suspects and their subsequent confessions
are of prime importance.

     This article addresses the question of why suspects speak
freely to investigators, and ultimately, sign full confessions.
The physical and psychological aspects of confession and how
they relate to successful interrogations of suspects are also
discussed, as is the "breakthrough," the point in the
interrogation when suspects make an admission, no matter how
minuscule, that begins the process of obtaining a full


     Interrogation is the questioning of a person suspected of
having committed a crime. (1)  It is designed to match acquired
information to a particular suspect in order to secure a
confession. (2)  The goals of interrogation include:

     *  To learn the truth of the crime and how it happened

     *  To obtain an admission of guilt from the suspect

     *  To obtain all the facts to determine the method of
        operation and the circumstances of the crime in question

     *  To gather information that enables investigators to arrive
        at logical conclusions

     *  To provide information for use by the prosecutor in
        possible court action. (3)

     Knowing the definition and objectives of the interrogation,
the question then asked is, "Why do suspects confess?"
Self-condemnation and self-destruction are not normal human
behavioral characteristics.  Human beings ordinarily do not
utter unsolicited, spontaneous confessions. (4)  It is logical
to conclude, therefore, that when suspects are taken to police
stations to be questioned concerning their involvement in a
particular crime, their immediate reaction will be a refusal to
answer any questions.  With the deluge of television programs
that present a clear picture of the Miranda warning and its
application to suspects, one would conclude that no one
questioned about a crime would surrender incriminating
information, much less supply investigators with a signed, full
confession.  It would also seem that once suspects sense the
direction in which the investigators are heading, the
conversation would immediately end.  However, for various
psychological reasons, suspects continue to speak with


     Suspects are never quite sure of exactly what information
investigators possess.  They know that the police are
investigating the crime, and in all likelihood, suspects have
followed media accounts of their crimes to determine what leads
the police have.  Uppermost in their minds, however, is how to
escape detection and obtain firsthand information about the
investigation and where it is heading.

     Such "paranoia" motivates suspects to accompany the police
voluntarily for questioning.  Coupled with curiosity, this
paranoia motivates suspects to appear at police headquarters as
"concerned citizens" who have information pertinent to the case.
By doing this, suspects may attempt to supply false or
noncorroborative information in order to lead investigators
astray, gain inside information concerning the case from
investigators, and remove suspicion from themselves by offering
information on the case so investigators will not suspect their

     For example, in one case, a 22-year-old woman was
discovered in a stairwell outside of a public building.  The
woman had been raped and was found naked and bludgeoned.
Investigators interviewed numerous people during the next
several days but were unable to identify any suspects.  Media
coverage on the case was extremely high.

     Several days into the investigation, a 23-year-old man
appeared at police headquarters with two infants in tow and
informed investigators that he believed he may have some
information regarding the woman's death.  The man revealed that
when he was walking home late one evening, he passed the area
where the woman was found and observed a "strange individual"
lurking near an adjacent phone booth.  The man said that because
he was frightened of the stranger, he ran back to his home.
After reading the media accounts of the girl's death, he
believed that he should tell the police what he had observed.

     The man gave police a physical description of the
"stranger" and then helped an artist to compose a sketch of the
individual.  After he left, investigators discovered that the
sketch bore a strong resemblance to the "witness" who provided
the information.

     After further investigation, the witness was asked to
return to the police station to answer more questions, which he
did gladly.  Some 15 hours into the interrogation, he confessed
to one of his "multiple personalities" having killed the woman,
who was unknown to him, simply because the victim was a woman,
which is what the suspect had always wanted to be.

     This case clearly illustrates the need for some suspects to
know exactly what is happening in an investigation. In their
minds, they honestly believe that by hiding behind the guise of
"trying to help," they will, without incriminating themselves,
learn more about the case from the investigators.


     In any discussion concerning interrogation, it is necessary
to include a review of the surroundings where a suspect is to be
interrogated.  Because there is a general desire to maintain
personal integrity before family members and peer groups,
suspects should be removed from familiar surroundings and taken
to a location that has an atmosphere more conducive to
cooperativeness and truthfulness. (5) The primary psychological
factor contributing to successful interrogations is privacy--
being totally alone with suspects. (6)  This privacy prompts
suspects to feel willing to unload the burden of guilt. (7)  The
interrogation site should isolate the suspect so that only the
interrogator is present.  The suspect's thoughts and responses
should be free from all outside distractions or stimuli.

     The interrogation setting also plays an important part in
obtaining confessions.  The surroundings should reduce suspect
fears and contribute to the inclination to discuss the crime.
Because fear is a direct reinforcement for defensive mechanisms
(resistance), it is important to erase as many fears as
possible. (8)  Therefore, the interrogation room should
establish a business atmosphere as opposed to a police-like
atmosphere.  While drab, barren interrogation rooms increase
fear in suspects, a location that displays an open,
you-have-nothing-to fear quality about it can do much to break
down interrogation defensiveness, thereby eliminating a major
barrier. (9)  The interrogators tend to disarm the suspects
psychologically by placing them in surroundings that are free
from any fear-inducing distractions.


     More than likely, suspects voluntarily accompany
investigators, either in response to a police request to answer
questions or in an attempt to learn information about the
investigation.  Once settled in the interrogation room, the
interrogators should treat suspects in a civilized manner, no
matter how vicious or serious the crime might have been.  While
they may have feelings of disgust for the suspects, the goal is
to obtain a confession, and it is important that personal
emotions not be revealed. (10)

    Investigators should also adopt a compassionate attitude and
attempt to establish a rapport with suspects.  In most cases,
suspects commit crimes because they believe that it offers the
best solution to their needs at the moment. (11)  Two rules of
thumb to remember are:  1) "There but for the grace of God go
I"; and 2) it is important to establish a common level of
understanding with the suspects. (12)  These rules are critical
to persuading suspects to be open, forthright, and honest.
Suspects should be persuaded to look beyond the investigators'
badges and see, instead, officers who listen without judging.
If investigators are able to convince suspects that the key
issue is not the crime itself, but what motivated them to commit
the crime, they will begin to rationalize or explain their
motivating factors.

     At this stage of the interrogation, investigators are on
the brink of having suspects break through remaining defensive
barriers to admit involvement in the crime.  This is the
critical stage of the interrogation process known as the


     The breakthrough is the point in the interrogation when
suspects make an admission, no matter how small. (13) In spite of
having been advised of certain protections guaranteed by the
Constitution, most suspects feel a need to confess.  Both
hardcore criminals and first-time offenders suffer from the same
pangs of conscience. (14)  This is an indication that their defense
mechanisms are diminished, and at this point, the investigators
may push through to elicit the remaining elements of confession.

     In order for interrogators to pursue a successful
breakthrough, they must recognize and understand certain
background factors that are unique to a particular suspect.
Many times, criminals exhibit psychological problems that are
the result of having come from homes torn by conflict and
dissension.  Also frequently found in the backgrounds of
criminals are parental rejection and inconsistent and severe
punishment. (15)  It is important that investigators see beyond
the person sitting before them and realize that past experiences
can impact on current behavior.  Once interrogators realize
that the fear of possible punishment, coupled with the loss of
pride in having to admit to committing mistakes, is the basic
inhibitor they must overcome in suspects, they will quickly be
able to formulate questions and analyze responses that will
break through the inhibitors.


     Investigators must conduct every interrogation with the
belief that suspects, when presented with the proper avenue,
will use it to confess their crimes.  Research indicates that
most guilty persons who confess are, from the outset, looking
for the proper opening during the interrogation to communicate
their guilt to the interrogators. (16)

     Suspects confess when the internal anxiety caused by their
deception outweighs their perceptions of the crime's
consequences. (17)  In most instances, suspects have magnified,
in their minds, both the severity of the crime and the possible
repercussions.  Interrogators should allay suspect anxiety by
putting these fears into perspective.

     Suspects also make admissions or confessions when they
believe that cooperation is the best course of action. (18)  If
they are convinced that officers are prepared to listen to all
of the circumstances surrounding the crimes, they will begin to
talk.  The psychological and physiological pressures that build
in a person who has committed a crime are best alleviated by
communicating. (19)  In order to relieve these suppressed
pressures, suspects explain the circumstances of their crimes
they confess.

     And, finally, suspects confess when interrogators are able
to speculate correctly on why the crimes were committed.
Suspects want to know ahead of time that interrogators will
believe what they have to say and will understand what motivated
them to commit the crime.


     It is natural for suspects to want to preserve their
privacy, civil rights, and liberties.  It is also natural for
suspects to resist discussing their criminal acts.  For these
very reasons, however, investigators must develop the skills
that enable them to disarm defensive resistors established by
suspects during interrogation.  Before suspects will confess,
they must feel comfortable in their surroundings, and they must
have confidence in the interrogators, who should attempt to gain
this confidence by listening intently to them and by allowing
them to verbalize their accounts of the crimes.

     Interrogators who understand what motivates suspects to
confess will be better able to formulate effective questions and
analyze suspect responses.  Obviously, more goes into gaining a
confession than is contained in this article.  However, if the
interrogator fails to understand the motivations of the suspect,
other factors impacting on obtaining the confession will be less


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