This post was originally published on Quora in response to the question, “What are the best techniques to resist police interrogation?“
I’ve obviously got what is probably an inside-out perspective on this question, but there honestly isn’t a whole lot to resist.
Law enforcement interviews are really not designed to systematically “break” someone, and interview rooms aren’t the miserable, dank sweatboxes you see on television.
If you don’t want the interviewing officer to know anything you know, say the following:
“I am invoking my right to silence, and decline further comment without the presence of legal counsel.”
Once you do that, respond to any question with silence or, “I remind you of my invocation of my right to silence.” In the vast majority of cases, interview over. Period.
While this doesn’t mean that an interviewer can’t or won’t say one more word to you while you’re there, they had better tread carefully if they don’t want your case thrown out. Coerced confessions are much worse than no confession at all, because silence can be interpreted — coercion must be reacted to.
The only psychology behind it lies in the actually remaining silent. My area of town had several shopping outlets, so I worked literally scores of shopliftings — sometimes two and three a shift. I would usually walk in, identify the suspect, run their information, get a statement from the owner or loss prevention, and then say to the suspect:
“I need to get your side of the story. Before I do that, I need to read your rights to you — you might know this as a ‘Miranda warning.’ So listen carefully, and I’ll address any questions you have afterward.”
I then read Miranda from a preprinted card and asked if they understood and if they had any questions — almost always yes, and no, respectively. My next question was usually, “Would you like to tell me what happened this evening?”
I was essentially preying on their narcissism and fear of silence. Obviously they want to tell their story — they don’t want anybody to think that they could do such a thing, or lacking that, that they’re a bad person for having done so. About 98% of the time, they just told the story from their perspective, usually trying to soften details and skip over elements of the crime, but eventually admitting to everything along the way. Occasionally they dispensed even with the theatrics and just said, “I stole the shirt from the store.” Very rarely did anyone choose to remain silent when given the opportunity to explain.
Even when they did, though, there was an interesting dynamic that sometimes occurred. Occasionally when someone initially said they declined to speak, I said ok, then would start doing some of the investigation — going over loss amounts, reviewing surveillance tape, looking at the items in question — and then they would seem unable to help themselves, and would start trying to explain or justify what had happened. Somehow they thought they could smooth the situation over, make themselves look better, and explain away the evidence by talking.
Quite the opposite — they often tied their own noose in doing so. They didn’t know that, as I was letting them talk and looking very sympathetic, I was writing down everything they said, in word for word quotations as much as was possible, in the margins of my paperwork. Once defence attorneys started reading the quotes I was putting in my reports, they usually petitioned the prosecutor for a plea bargain. Out of the scores upon scores of shoplifting incidents I worked, zero have thus far gone to trial.
So, yes, if you want zero exchange of information, remain silent. If you’re wanting some other end that involves your actually engaging in an interview, nobody can really speak to that short of a licensed attorney with knowledge of the circumstances of your case, who is preferably at your side and exercising veto power over questions during the interview. Resist by silence, whether selective (in an attorney’s presence) or wholesale — because you’re not going to ‘beat’ interviewing detectives on their home turf.
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