Wednesday, February 01, 2012

An Interrogation Prop

by C.L Phillips

We've got a little bit of controversy in sleepy Austin, Texas.  Turns out our police detectives, in their zeal to solve a cold case, used a doctored DNA report as an interrogation prop as a tool to encourage a suspect to confess to a murder.

Our police chief took to the airwaves and print to back his investigators and explain the concept of "it's all fair" inside the box, the interrogation room.  Our newspaper, the Austin American Statesman came out with a "tsk-tsk" editorial, denouncing the practice.

Now I'm not saying I agree or disagree with what the investigators did.  No sir, not me.  But what about you?  What do you think?

Do you have a different opinion if you have strong evidence the suspect has committed multiple murders? How far would you go to solve a twenty five year old murder?

Is all fair in love, war and police interrogations?

What kind of interrogation props do your fictional characters use?

Keep writing!


Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

I'd say, as an interrogation prop -- that would be fair. But of course, not in a court of law.

Joyce Tremel said...

Definitely fair! I'll see if I can get our buddy, Lee Lofland to chime in on this.

Lee Lofland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joyce Tremel said...

Thanks, Lee!

I love your true stories. Interested in writing another guest blog?

Jenna said...

Oooh, good question!

It seems to be legal. It's done all the time, in life and in books/TV shows. When you've got a suspect who's guilty as sin and it works, I bet it feels good, and it's satisfying to read about/watch. When the suspect isn't actually guilty... maybe a different story?

From a reader's standpoint, and for all that it's legal, it does feel a little bit like cheating, I guess. I mean, we don't want our heroes to be liars, do we? It's much more satisfying when they can get the bad guys with actual, non-fabricated evidence.

Or is that just me?

And let me just say it again: in life, when the guy's guilty, I don't really care what it takes to take him down. Lie, sure. Just make sure he really is guilty and there's enough evidence to make it stick.

Karen in Ohio said...

It sounds like a plot point from a Law & Order episode. Nice to know it's really legal, and not a ploy used solely in fiction.

I guess you can apply the same principals to crime as to the rest of life: at least 50% of the world has an IQ of less than 100, so you can fool them more easily than the bright ones.

Gina said...

I have to admit to having mixed feelings on this one. While I don't mind lying for the right reasons, which would certainly apply here, it concerns me that so many people confess to crimes they haven't committed. I'm not sure why, but faced with apparent evidence of guilt, I can see many innocent people saying, "Yes. I did it!" This could result in the conviction of an innocent person, and could also result in the real guilty person getting away with it because the police will think the crime is solved.

What do you think about that, Lee??

C.L. Phillips said...


Wow - I'm a big fan! So glad you stopped by this morning to weigh in on the topic. Great to meet you (virtually, anyway). A bit more about the case.

Three similar murders over a three year period are unsolved at this point. The suspect is on trial for Christine Morton's murder, having been arrested after The Innocence Project championed the DNA testing of a bloody bandanna exonerated Michael Morton (the husband who served 25 years in prison).

In another case, in Travis county, a pubic hair from the scene matched the suspect. APD now has matching DNA from the crime scene and the suspect. The interrogation took place before the crime lab report was available, so the officers created the prop.

Any thoughts as to why our newspaper is stirring up a hornet's nest with an editorial? Could the news business be that slow?

Seems to me in Texas of all places, this would be more than common, Supreme Court or not.

And everyone, thanks for weighing in on the topic. I plan to use this concept in one of my novels.

Patg said...

CL, you have to remember that newspapers need stories and drama to sell papers. That's there priority, not solving crimes.
Very interesting discussion.

Lee Lofland said...

Sorry, I deleted my own comment by mistake. Here it is again.

Simple's a fair and legal tactic (the Supreme Court has ruled it so), and it's an investigative tactic/technique/tool that's used every single day in police departments all across the U.S.

One of my personal favorite uses was after a theft from a local jewelry store. A patrol officer caught the couple, a man and woman, as they were making their way out of the city and onto the interstate. But, once he had them at the department they refused to talk. The $15,000 ring was nowhere to be found. The jewelry store clerk couldn't identify either of them (Stevie Wonder could have picked them out of a lineup, so why this person couldn't, well, who knows. Fear probably). And the video cameras had not been switched on.

As my luck would have it, I was asked to interview them. Of course the uniforms asked me to do it. They had no evidence. Absolutely nothing to go on other than a crude description of the getaway car. Nada. And that meant I'd be credited with the failure, not the responding officers. It was my case at that point.

The female was a pretty tough customer. A well-seasoned crook. But her partner, the weak link of the pair, had "the look." No Joyce, not your "look to kill," but the look of "I'll tell if you push the right button."

So, after an hour or so of no progress, I walked out to the room where all the patrol officers met for briefings. My mind was churning and I needed just the right "thing." A prop. And there it was...a Bugs Bunny video. Yep, one of the dispatchers had been out shopping and left her packages on one of the desks.

Long story shortened a bit...

I placed a crude, handwritten, homemade label on the outside of the VHS video cartridge, and that label read Lee's (not the real name) Jewelry Surveillance.

Well, I carried that stupid-looking tape inside the interview room and slid it across the table toward the male crook. Then I said, "We've got you now. My partner just processed the store's surveillance tape and guess who's the star of the show?" Of course, I didn't bother to tell him that Bugs Bunny was the real star...

He immediately hung his head down (the telltale sign that a confession is on the way) and said, "I did it but it was her idea."

Needless to say, that wrapped up another case. And you know what I said to the patrol officer who dumped this one on me..."That's All, Folks."

Joyce Tremel said...

Jenna, I don't have a problem with characters lying--especially the good guys. It doesn't make them any less of a hero.

Joyce Tremel said...

Gina, I don't think false confessions are as common as some of the media would have you believe. We only hear about them because they ARE so rare.

Lee Lofland said...

Not only does the tactic seem to be legal, it is legal. And it's not cheating.

The idea is to garner a confession, a confession that will lead officers to the real evidence of the crime, something a false confession cannot produce.

Therefore, if a person provides information that can't be proven to connect to the case, well, then he and his made-up story would be placed on a back burner and the officers would move on.

Oh, and for what it's worth, and that's not much, to imply that the (my) use of this valuable tool as "fabricated evidence" is a bit offensive. As is, "We don't want our heroes to be liars." But that's just my opinion.

Jenna said...

I'm sorry you found my comment offensive, that wasn't my intention at all. I did make sure to differentiate between real life and books, if you want to read it again. The paragraph about the cheating and the fabricated evidence was from the standpoint of a reader, not a real life situation, and it was absolutely no reflection on any real person alive or dead. My apologies.