A Recipe for Wrongful Confessions: A Case Study Examining the ‘Reid Technique’ and the Interrogation of Indigenous Suspects
(2020) Michigan State University International Law Review 28:3 369
70 Pages Posted: 30 Oct 2020 Last revised: 7 Jun 2021
Date Written: May 1, 2020
The Innocence Project in the United States has produced research that more than 1 out of 4 persons who have been wrongfully convicted (as confirmed by DNA evidence) were convicted because of a false confession. There are similar estimates in Canada that approximately 20% of all DNA based exoneration involve false confessions. This paper seeks to explore the potentially damaging effects of police interrogation techniques when used on Indigenous suspects in the criminal law context. Very little has been published on this important topic, but with the over-representation of Indigenous offenders it is a subject that needs further study. The cultural factors that may cause an Indigenous accused to “confess” to something they did not do are very much linked to language and communication styles. Suspects who are vulnerable as a result of their background need special accommodations in interrogation, but this understanding has been largely absent from Canadian jurisprudence as there are very few references in the case-law to these considerations.
This paper will begin with a brief discussion of the common law “Confessions Rule” as well as the history of Canadian jurisprudence involving interrogation and the Reid Technique which is taught to Canadian police candidates today. This paper will then examine the Confessions Rule and interrogations methods and the seminal case of R v Oickle. Approaching this topic from a new perspective, this paper will then examine an actual interrogation of an Indigenous suspect that came to the attention of the author through an expert retainer. The paper will then break down all nine steps of the Reid Technique by examining what the suspect said at each stage of the interrogation using the actual words of an Indigenous suspect. The author seeks to begin the discussion that the Reid Technique of interrogation needs to be removed as the preferred method for our police forces with all interrogation subjects, but especially for Indigenous suspects. This article will also discuss research from Australia which focuses on the dangers of interrogation of Indigenous subjects and suggestions will be made for this proposed shift in the Canadian criminal justice system. There is inherent risk of eliciting false confessions as a result of culturally unaware interrogations which can allow vulnerable populations to fall victim to questioning which exploits their un-examined vulnerabilities.
Keywords: Confessions Rule, Reid Technique, False Confessions, Indigenous Peoples, Language, Canada, Australia
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