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Stan B. Walters

False Confession: Who’s Responsible?

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 but 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 responsible for the commission of the crime leads one to believe 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 persons 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.

Can We Suppress All Our Stress Signs & Lie Cues?

Stan B. Walters, CSP
“The Lie Guy®”

I recently read an article from a law enforcement news service to which I subscribe about a new video training program being produced and distributed by a former highway drug interdiction officer.  The pitch for the video indicated that the viewer would be taught how to hide all their drugs in vehicles in such a way that they could not be found during a traffic stop.  In addition, the viewer will be taught how not to raise a traffic officer’s suspicions during any stop and the correct answers to all the questions the driver would be asked.  My area of expertise has nothing to do with the interdiction skills, training or experience needed to spot hidden drug compartments, etc. However, the assumption by the producers of this video that they can teach someone how to control their behaviors and not be noticed by an officer with at least average interdiction experience has some major flaws.

 

I can not imagine any drug courier does not think about being stopped every time he or she makes a run.  In their mind I know they have imagined the incident, attempted to rehearsed their “cool” behavior and walk away unnoticed.  They may even try to anticipate all the questions they may be asked or even knows what they may be asked by the officer by learning from the mistakes made by other drug operators during their ill-fated stops. The one thing none of us can do in advance is prepare or rehearse the intellectual or emotional stress we my experience when we face the reality for which we have diligently rehearsed.

 

We can not simply “beat” someone at spotting our deception by merely knowing what they are going to ask us in advance.  One example would be a polygraph exam.  The subject knows the questions the examiner is going to ask because the examiner has worked on the questions with the examinee’s assistance!  How well do these subjects perform on those exams?  Just the anticipation alone that “the question” is or may be asked is enough to trigger significant emotional and cognitive reactions.

 

Our video producers have also demonstrated by their statements an extreme ignorance of the human processes of deception.  We practice the deception of others by attempting to show knowledge about something we do not know or hide knowledge of information we do in fact possess.  We are faking an emotion we are not currently experiencing or hiding an emotion we don’t want read. The video producers have told us they can teach us how to control all the behaviors that no one has ever been able to do with 100% success in the past.  Certainly an officer may miss some of the stress signs and deception cues a subject may be generating but that doesn’t mean the cues aren’t there.

 

Finally, while all this well planned “successful” ruse is being perpetrated by the driver who is hiding the drugs and controlling all their stress reactions and lie cues there are some other issues that are also occupying their thoughts.  “Am I leaking any of the cues I supposed to hide?”  “Is my performance in answering “the questions” succeeding based on the reactions I see from the officer who stopped me?”  All I can say to the producers of this video is “thanks.”  You will so thoroughly screw up the people who are going to buy your video with some much misinformation you’re going to make it easier for observant officers to pick out their behaviors.  Now these people don’t have just one or two things to worry about during their stop, they now have about 10.  These drivers aren’t rocket scientists and definitely not astute enough actors to master such a skilled performance on the side of the road.