In my post last week titled “Bringing Brendan Dassey into the classroom,” I suggested that Brendan Dassey’s case presents the legal academy with a special opportunity to bring the classroom alive—particularly and especially the criminal procedure classroom—in a manner superior to more traditional teaching methods. At the end, I promised a series of follow-up posts beginning with what I perceive as missing from most criminal procedure syllabi: teaching interrogation methods.
At the core of Dassey’s heart-breaking story is the Reid interrogation technique and the failure of investigators and his trial counsel alike to understand how that technique operates—both generally and specifically on the juvenile suspect. But much more on Dassey’s relationship to Reid in coming posts. Today, I simply want to explain why the Reid technique belongs in the investigative criminal procedure course.
The vast majority of American law enforcement deploy the same nine-step interrogation method developed and formalized over decades dating back to 1942. The true effect of the Reid technique is difficult to appreciate until you understand the strategies underlying the method. That, in turn, matters to lawyers because it may drive when Miranda rights attach to a suspect—particularly when Miranda custody begins—as opposed to when Miranda should attach.
Most commonly, the investigative criminal procedure course dedicates considerable time to Miranda jurisprudence. And appropriately so. But an understanding of Miranda is just one-half of the equation. Understanding interrogation methods alongside the accompanying social science literature is the other half. Law schools can help fill that, in Laura Nirider’s words, “problematic gap.”
I have had the privilege of teaching the investigative criminal procedure course consistently for the past decade. After teaching it a handful of times, my curiosity about some of the material’s nuances grew. One nuance—or what I perceived to be a disconnect—stood out to me above all others: the relationship between interrogation methods and Miranda v. Arizona. Across several pages of the Miranda majority, Chief Justice Warren extensively discusses interrogation manuals. He even relied on their prevalence, in part, to justify the Court’s creation of the now famous Miranda warnings.
If interrogation methods were so important to the Miranda Court’s holding, why wasn’t I teaching them to students? And which method should I focus on?
Once again, Miranda had answers. Buried in the weeds of the Miranda opinion I rediscovered a handful of footnotes that, I confess, I had not previously focused on in prior classes. There, across more than ten footnotes, Chief Justice Warren cited heavily to Criminal Interrogation and Confessions by John E. Reid and Fred E. Inbau (Williams & Wilkins Company, 1962). He even noted in a particular footnote that the Reid text “had rather extensive use among law enforcement agencies and among students of police science, with total sales and circulation of over 44,000.”
I was intrigued. In the summer of 2009, I dedicated myself to learning the method and have since written about it. Among many other things, I learned that the 44,000 figure Chief Justice Warren cites to describe the prevalence of the Reid text is dramatically out of date. Today, investigators learn interrogation techniques from a business—John E. Reid & Associates. The prevalence of the Reid technique—as taught in seminars and described in Criminal Interrogation and Confessions—cannot be overstated. Indeed, John E. Reid & Associates is the largest, best-known provider of interrogation training in the United States.
Officers from every U.S. state use the Reid method. A nationwide survey of police departments revealed that two-thirds of state police departments train some or all of their department’s officers in the Reid method. The Reid technique also claims international reach. According John E. Reid & Associates, participants in Reid training come from “every U.S. State and Canadian Province, as well as countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.” The United States military law enforcement also relies on the technique.
In total, Reid & Associates boasts that more than 500,000 law enforcement and security professionals have attended its interrogation seminars since they were first offered in 1974. In other words, more than ten times the number who learned the technique in 1966 when Miranda was published.
The prevalence of the Reid technique speaks for itself. But its pervasiveness hides a powerful reality: law enforcement and law students are learning from different playbooks. That is, law enforcement is learning an interrogation technique without necessarily focusing on the constitutional law that governs that technique. Meanwhile, law students are learning the governing law without learning the technique. That must change and, again, Dassey’s case demonstrates why knowledge of the technique—as incorporated into a motion to suppress—could have meaningfully impacted the admissibility of his March 1, 2006, “confession.”
A primer on the Reid technique, my experience on becoming a Reid-certified interrogator and the technique’s applicability to Dassey in my next post.