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False Confession: Who’s Responsible?

by Stan B. Walters, CSP “The Lie Guy®”

Recently I was comparing “notes” with a social psychologist who is conducting research on cues to deception. She has been collecting data about the lie cues taught by the numerous interview and interrogation courses and attempting to validate the reliability of those cues. She shared with me a comment made by an instructor in one of these courses that not only did she find disturbing by that I find at least professionally if not ethically appalling. A question was raised in class about the issue of false confessions and how they should be handled. The instructor informed the participants that the interviewer should blame the subject for the false confession.


With the country’s legal system current focus on wrongful convictions and false confessions, how irresponsible could a professional investigator be to blame a false confession on the suspect? The objective of the investigative interviewer should be finding the truth by accurately spotting deception and ultimately obtaining a legal and ethical admission or confession. Such professionals should also be keenly aware of what methods and techniques could induce a highly suggestible subject to make a false confession.


One issue that immediately concerns me about the instructor’s statement is there must be some problem with the human behavior cues that are being taught in this course. We are expected to spot a subject’s apparent deception regarding their involvement in some inappropriate or criminal act by observing and identifying specific verbal and nonverbal cues of deception.


If the cues being taught are reliable discriminators of deception, then why would the interviewer not be able to spot the very same signs that would undoubtedly be generated by a subject who is falsely confessing?

The objective of any investigation is to uncover the real story. Doesn’t the fact that there has been a false confession run completely counter to that objective?


The fact that the investigator has become focused on this subject as being the person that there may in fact have been a faulty or inadequate investigative effort which would include the identification, collection and preservation of evidence and more importantly the interviews of other sources, victims and witnesses. Once again, how has the interviewer missed the cues of omission and embellishment by the victims, witnesses or informants that I assume have already been interviewed during the investigation.


A couple of months ago I wrote an article for this newsletter that was entitled ‘Pre-Conception: An Interrogation Assassin’. My premise in that article was one of if not the most insidious states of mind that an interviewer could have any pre-conception about a person’s credibility and honesty about an issue. With an inaccurate assessment of the subject’s honesty and relying on signs of deception that have been proven to be unreliable and then proceeding without considering that their technique may increase the chances of a false confession is the path to disaster.


If the investigator is prepared to take the credit for solving a case and wants the credit for getting a confession from a subject then he or she is also are responsible for a false confession. Blaming the subject for their false confessions is an absolutely unacceptable excuse.


Our job is to find the truth. A false confession does not serve justice.

YouTube: False Confessions: Michael Crowe

Confession Motivation: Gain versus Pain

by Stan B. Walters, CSP
“The Lie Guy®”

For each of us, the only reason we change our minds about a decision that we have already made is when someone or something convinces us to abandon our first decision and a new or different point of view.  In our mind in some measurable way, we see the new position we have taken as being more rewarding or satisfying than the old.  We have made the change after we have been motivated by our perception of “gain” or “pain.”  The same evaluation process is being made in the mind of our interview or interrogation subject while we are persuading them to change their current position and begin to cooperate with us and comply with our requests for information or even confession.  If you can understand the “gain” or “pain” motivation of your subject and demonstrate to your subject a big distinction between the two, you’ll have a better chance at gaining compliance, cooperation and confession.


In the Gain vs. Gain scenario, you subject has already concluded that he has much more to gain by remaining consistent with the position he has already assumed.  First you have two hurdles to overcome, your subject’s commitment to staying consistent with his decision and second demonstrating to him or her the position you want them to choose will provide them even more to gain than they may realize. In this case you’ll need to acknowledge that you subject does have some things to gain by sticking with their decision and point out that the new point of view may also have those very same rewards.  That it itself however, is not enough to move your subject.  You’ll have emphasize the advantages your subject has overlooked or has undervalued in terms of their importance to him and his “gain” objective.


In the second scenario which is Pain vs. Pain, there is the possibility that your interviewee has seen no gain for them at all by accepting your conclusions and you’ll have a long road of persuasion ahead of you. It that case you’ll need to demonstrate to the subject that they have overlooked some pain issues with their point of view and to accept your proposition.  Your recommended position may also afford the subject some “pain” but not nearly as much as what they had not anticipated if they decided to “stand” by his initial choice.  In most cases, carefully listening to your subject and their reasons for rejecting your proposal, you’ll hear the gain-pain issue or issues that is driving your subject’s resistance.  You’ll need to focus on those issues because their are important to your subject but may not be that important to you.


The final scenario is usually the easiest to deal with and that’s the Pain vs. Gain format.  In this case, it is much easier to convince your subject to abandon their choice to resist your recommendations to solve the issue.  They already see themselves has having to deal with some level of “pain” as a result of their behavior and all you have to do is show them the “light” and get them to look forward and see to “gains” they can make by reevaluating their current pain-filled situation.  In many cases, just pointing out what may be obvious “gain” to you is all that is needed because your subject is “blinded” by their current state and has missed the benefits of changing they judgment about the possible outcomes of cooperation.


In any of the three scenarios above, the interviewer has to realize that their subject is motivated by “their” perception of Gain vs Pain.  The evaluation by the subject as to what they define as gain or pain may not even be close to what you as the interviewer think is worth gaining or avoiding.   Once the interviewer recognizes their subject’s gain or pain motivation he can key in on those issues.  The greater the distinction you can make between Gain – Gain, Gain – Pain, and Pain – Pain, the more likely and the more quickly you’ll get the subject to come to the conclusion to abandon their current preferred decision and accept the interviewer’s recommendation.