by Eva Polovina
Interrogations are a very important aspect of a criminal investigation as they immensely help with determining if the suspect killed the victim. The aim that every police officer has when he steps into an interrogation room is to get out a confession from a supposed killer. However, most criminal investigations are not easy, and most criminals do not confess even if they are guilty. That is why it is a policeman’s job to determine if someone is lying, to get as much information as possible from the person, and to “force” the person to confess. Most police officers want to get the confession from the suspect so badly that this leads to an innocent person confessing to the crime they did not commit. Besides interrogations, witness interviews also involve many problems as police officers are trying to collect as much information as possible about the suspect which unfortunately ends in witnesses creating false memories as the police want to confirm their suspicions. These two issues are very big problems in criminal investigations as in either case, they leave an innocent person in the prison.
In 1988, Michael Crowe confessed to the murder of his sister Stephanie Crow, although he was innocent. His confession was a product of psychological torture/manipulation and intense interrogation. Michael firstly claimed he did not commit the murder, but after many hours of manipulation, police led him to believe he unconsciously killed his sister. This type of memory sin is called persistence and it occurs in traumatic events. Children interrogations are usually difficult and often result in false confessions. Children are told to respect the adults and listen to them, so when police officers are forcing the kid to confess, the kid will succumb under the pressure. Michael even says that he only knows he did it is because the police officers told him he did which was not true. The police officers lied to Michael and told him his parents do not want anything to do with him anymore and that they will help him if he tells them the details. The promise was made off the camera, conveniently so that there is no evidence of it. In this case, child’s own will is overborne by an interrogator.
Another clear example of the issue with interrogations is the Amirault case. Gerald Amirault was accused of sexually abusing several children in his day-care center. There was never any concrete evidence, and the only evidence was confessions from children he allegedly abused. The statements included fantastic and unrealistic details that police could not find corroborating evidence for. However, this was sufficient evidence for jury, and Amirault was convicted. Jury tends to believe children, although they are an unreliable source of information. The suspect was presumed guilty until proven innocent although the real evidence was never found.
In these two cases, many issues regarding interrogations and interviews by police officers arise. Firstly, police officers should not be trying to force the confession from the person, if they don’t have corroborating evidence. The children who are suspects shouldn’t be subjected to intense psychological manipulation. When it comes to minors, a lawyer should be present in the interrogation room as the lawyer can recognize the psychological manipulation and defend the child. However, innocent children who are suspects do not think they need a lawyer because they are innocent. Therefore, a lawyer should be appointed to the child before interrogation starts, even if the child claims they do not need one. Also, the whole interrogations should be filmed and not just parts of it. In the Crowe murder case, the camera was off for the most important part of the psychological manipulation-when police officers lied to the child and claimed they will help him if he confesses and gives them the details which was also a lie. The police officers shouldn’t try to communicate with the child without the camera on. All in all, there should be more strict rules when it comes to child interrogations and children should have the ability to defend themselves with a lawyer and police officers should be specifically trained for interrogations of a child suspect.
In the Amirault case, children were questioned about the alleged sexual abuse. Firstly, children persisted that sexual abuse never happened. However, after they were continuously interrogated and asked questions, the memory was planted in their mind. In children, it is very easy to plant a false memory and children cannot discern between their imagination and reality which is what makes them unreliable witnesses. Children’s imagination is filled with horrible details which explains the fantastical nature of the accusations. In these types of interrogations, interrogators shouldn’t be asking leading questions that suggest something had happened. Instead, children should be given a chance, to remember on their own what had happened. If children deny the accusations, they shouldn’t be coerced into saying the opposite. Police officers shouldn’t interrupt people in interviews, but rather give them time to remember everything in detail. Cognitive interviewing should always be used, especially with children. In cognitive interviews, police officers should encourage witnesses to recreate the scene with open-ended questions. These interviews offer time for the witness to remember details and is focused on retrieval cues to help recall.
All in all, interrogations and witness interviews are usually not conducted appropriately. The confession is forced out of an innocent child and young children are manipulated to falsely confess. The suggestions made to improve these issues is to record the whole interrogation and appoint a lawyer. Regarding witness statements, the advice is to use the cognitive interview and not ask leading questions. To add, there are several suggestions that have not yet been made but could also be very helpful. Police officers should be required to complete more training and receive a better education in order to become a police investigator. They should learn how to interrogate a child suspect and question witnesses. They should be thought the psychology of criminology and the best techniques to interrogate or question a person in order to perform the most just investigation.