Reducing a Guilty Suspect’s Resistance to Confessing: Applying Criminological Theory to Interrogation Theme Development” by Brian Parsi Boetig, Article Critique Example

Introduction

The article “Reducing a guilty suspect’s resistance to confessing: applying criminological theory to interrogation theme development” by Brian Parsi Boetig examines ways in which investigators can apply criminological theories during courtroom interrogations. In criminal justice, this article relates to the areas of cross-examination and interrogation of suspects. The article’s primary objective, accordingly, is to offer a theoretical framework within which investigators can persuade suspects into confessing their crimes, and in so doing, admit their guilt.

The author examines the issue of reducing a guilty suspect’s resistance to confessing from the theme-based interrogation perspective. This approach, in which the interrogator acts as an “understanding mediator, rather than an adversary” (Boetig 2005) employs the techniques of rationalizing, projecting, and minimizing the motives, causes, and effects of committed crimes. This approach is used as a strategy to disarm the suspect by creating the impression that the offense is not that serious after all, or that anyone can actually do it under similar circumstances. In a nutshell, therefore, theme-based interrogation aims to instill confidence in the suspect, and to win his trust through the interrogator’s subtle overtures, which suggest that the court really understands why the defendant committed the crime. It is deception, basically, because the investigator’s aim is to get the suspect out of his cage, as it were.

Towards this goal, the investigator attempts to rationalize the crime, by presenting logical reasons that could have compelled the defendant to break the law. It makes the crime appear acceptable, the only logical thing anyone could have done under similar conditions. For instance, a man who has been accused of beating his wife can rationalize his offense that he did it as a form of discipline, or to avenge a wrong committed by the wife. Similarly, the offense can be projected, i.e. blamed on third party factors such as stress, anger and uncontrollable temper. The offense can also be minimized by observing that wife beating is a common occurrence in society; hence no need of making the defendant appears like an outcast. In this regard, rationalization helps to make the offense sound socially acceptable, while projection distances the suspect from the crime; it identifies other responsible factors, to which part of the blame should be transferred. Finally, minimization reduces the severity or outrageousness of the crime by explaining it as a commonplace occurrence in society. This makes the suspect feel less guilty and therefore more cooperative during the interrogation process. Convinced this way, the suspect is more likely to soften his “not guilty” position in the hope that the court will be considerate to understand the circumstances that led to the commitment of the crime.

Results

The article’s findings are based on a number of criminological theories, which attempt to explain the causes of criminal behavior. These theories attribute deviance to a host of various causes, including biological, spiritual, and social factors. By referring to these factors, investigators are able to rationalize, project and minimize the offense into acceptable terms.  The classical perspective theory posits that deviant behavior is a rational choice in which people desire to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Because everyone desires the best at minimal cost, e.g. the natural tendency to get something for free (like stealing), laws are enacted to prevent the degeneration of social order into a state of anarchy. Within this theory, criminal behavior can be rationalized as a consequence of inadequate deterrent measures, whereby the gains to be achieved outweigh the punishment if one is caught. It makes the crime so natural, that anyone could have done it given the high stakes compared to the risk. In terms of minimization, the offense is blamed on lenient laws, or the failure of the judicial system to enact effective laws to discourage the behavior.

The rational choice theory explains criminal behavior as an act on behalf of the offender’s best interests. In this regard, an offense is rationalized as the most appropriate action to take. For instance, one can justify stealing food to avoid starvation. Although asking for help could have been legally appropriate, the offender’s best interests, such as satisfying hunger, is an urgency that could not wait for the protocols of courtesy, hence the quick solution of stealing.  In equal measure, the act can be projected to other factors by blaming it on hunger- to create the argument that the suspect could not have committed the crime if it were not for hunger.

The article identifies other theoretical perspectives, such as the biological and psychological perspective, which attributes deviant behavior to physical and mental abnormalities, thus distancing the suspect from being directly responsible for the crime. The social condition explanations attribute criminal behavior to social situations such as poverty, therefore making the suspect a victim of circumstances. Social process theories attribute deviance to peer and family influences, and therefore provides a basis for projecting criminal acts to society in general. Finally, the demonic perspective refers to the influence of evil powers, and in so doing creates the argument that the suspect was not in control of his actions.

The article’s most important observations and conclusions include the author’s recognition of the relationship between a suspect’s mindset and the confessions he is likely to make. The assertion that investigators need to win the suspects’ trust in order to provoke their confessions regarding committed crimes reflects the nature of human behavior. Namely, that it is more likely for a suspect to open up to an investigator he regards as friendly and understanding of his situation than one who is not. This observation is especially accurate because it captures the techniques used by prosecutors and lawyers during cross-examination of suspects and witnesses. It is not surprising, indeed, that prosecutors often appear harmless in their questions, when they are really intended to lead the suspect into a self-incrimination.

Issues

Nevertheless, the article leaves a number of questions unresolved, such as the legality or fairness of deceiving a suspect into incriminating one’s self.  More accurately, the article articulates ways of applying criminological theories to mislead suspects to unwittingly confess to crimes they may or may not have committed. This is because the interrogator creates a false “common understanding of the situation” with the suspect, whilst having a hidden motive- to lead the suspect into a tight corner. The law is about justice, hence the need to rely more on irrefutable evidence instead of confessions coerced from a suspect through deception.  Therefore, the article raises questions regarding the moral soundness of a conviction based on confessions that a witness made in the false belief that the interrogator was sympathetic to his situation. Is a conviction necessary by whatever means? It is my considered opinion that when it comes to matters of justice and the law, the end does not necessarily and always justify the means.

Critique

One of the major questions that rise from this article is whether confessions or admissions made during investigations can legally be used as evidence in the court. For one, the subjective nature of theme-based investigations can be challenged in court. For example, the use of Social Process Theories to invoke emotions in victims and force them to talk about their social life may be tantamount to manipulation. By encouraging people to talk about their social life, particularly poor social backgrounds like poverty, individuals may be lead by emotions to make uninformed confessions in the belief that they might be helped. Is such objections are raised in court, especially after a criminal changes mind, the use of such confessions as evidence might not be as helpful as they are intended to be.

The article also articulates how criminology theories can be applied and used to weaken suspect’s resistance to confess guilty. From the analysis, it is possible that criminology theories, when correctly applied, act as an ethically-acceptable technique to persuade criminals to admit and accept their wrong doing. By convincing criminals to accept their criminal activities, investigators are not only able to save time on criminal cases, but are also able to identify the causes of criminal activities. From this article, it is clear that the key to an investigator’s ability to transform a suspect from denial to submission is through the understanding and the ability to correctly apply the various criminological theories during investigation. However, given that interrogation and investigations are important components of the justice process, and that obtaining confession from criminals may lead to conviction in court, it is highly unlikely that the use of criminological theories alone can be used to persuade criminals to admit crime. The author, probably aware of this, only provided a snapshot of a few criminological theories to justify his claim. Some of the theories described in the article, such as the demonic perspective, are not well established theories in criminology. Furthermore, while most of the theories described in this text may be theoretically used to enhance confession, the examples provided in the article do not appear to conform to most of the theories described. Forinstance, the theories that he has described have failed to establish how to convince habitual criminals to confess to multiple crimes.

The article has clearly demonstrated how criminology theories can be used to explain social conditions, such poor education, poverty, social structure and unemployment, which relate to criminal behavior. For example, the author has used the anomie perspective that explains people’s desires and aspirations as being the cause of criminal behavior. Based on this article, the explorations of such theories can be used to inspire criminals to talk about their life and confess their crime. For example, based on the idea of the American Dream, corporate criminals may be led to confess by making them believe that the America dream is based on the ability to attain their goals using whatever means. However, the author has failed to recognize that some of these theories, especially the social condition explanation, may be too subjective and may in fact lead to denial. Some people are not comfortable with their social backgrounds and misrepresentation of their social background may lead to misrepresentation of facts relating to the crime, and hence denial. A good case in point is the education level of criminals. Some criminals may not volunteer to provide information relating to their education background, for shame or any other reason. Since poor level of education is related to low social conditions, some criminals might misrepresent their educational backgrounds and hence concealed their social backgrounds. In this regard, it might be difficult to persuade criminals to accept criminal involvement using social theories.

As demonstrated in the article, social control theories asserts that all people have an innate ability to commit crimes and break the law and that people are only overcome with social forces( Zulawski and  Wicklander 2002). Basically this means that most people shy away from criminal activities, not out of will but because they are afraid of damaging their social reputation and their status in society. Based on the same ground, the use of criminology theories to reduce the resistance to confession might be counterproductive. Just as many people shy away from breaking the law to avoid damaging their social reputation, so is criminals’ reluctance to admit crime for the fear of being prosecuted. Every criminal knows that any admission or confession for a criminal activity can be used as evidence in the court and therefore, just like other people who are prevented from breaking the law by social forces, criminals are prevented from confession by the consequences that may follow their confession. Therefore, while it is possible to use criminology theories to reduce the resistance of criminals to confess during investigations, it is not an easy feat and it heavily depends on the convincing powers of the officers involved in the investigation.

 

Works Cited

Boetig, Brian. “Reducing a guilty suspect’s resistance to confessing: applying criminological theory to

interrogation theme development.” Business Library.  August 1, 2005. Retrieved February 14, 2012 < http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2194/is_8_74/ai_n15966236/?tag=content;col1

Zulawski, David, and Wicklander, Douglas. Practical Aspects of Interview and Interrogation, 2nd ed. New York, NY: CRC Press, 2002