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Study shows how easily interrogation tactics elicit false confessions

Police in Canada are currently allowed to use deceptive tactics to a certain extent when interviewing a person suspected of a crime. In reality, misleading suspects in an effort to get them to confess is a common practice in police interviews. For example, the Reid technique is a complex form of manipulation used by police, and the technique has been shown many times to have elicited false confessions.

A study recently published in Psychological Science shows how vulnerable the average person can be to confessing to a crime that he or she did not commit, and the researchers concluded that strict guidelines should be in place to protect suspects from the potentially devastating consequences of dubious interrogation tactics.

The researchers, one of whom is a professor at The University of British Columbia, gathered background information on 126 participants, all of whom were university students and whose caregivers provided the information.

The students were then asked to remember two events. One event was something that actually happened, and the other was a false story about the student committing a crime. The participants easily remembered the actual event but initially did not recall the false criminal event.

Using interrogation tactics similar to those used by police, the researchers tried to convince the students that the false event actually happened. Astonishingly, 70 per cent of the time the participants provided a "full-blown visual memory" of the manufactured story.

After being told that the false event was false, some participants even argued that the manufactured memory was legitimate.

These findings underscore the importance of having a criminal defence lawyer on your side as soon as possible if you believe the police are investigating you. For more on criminal defence in Ontario, please visit the criminal defence overview of Neuberger & Partners LLP.

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