Criminogenic Risks of Interrogation

76 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2022 Last revised: 10 Jun 2022

See all articles by Richard H. McAdams

Richard H. McAdams

University of Chicago Law School

Margareth Etienne

University of Illinois College of Law

Date Written: Spring 2022


In the United States, moral minimization is a pervasive police interrogation tactic in which the detective minimizes the moral seriousness and harm of the offense by casting blame away from the offender and onto the victim or society. The goal of these minimizations is to reinforce the guilty suspect’s own rationalizations or “neutralizations” of the crime. The official theory posited in the interrogation manuals that instruct the tactic is that minimizations encourage confessions by lowering the guilt or shame from confessing the crime. Yet the same logic suggests that minimization would also lower the internal, psychological costs of committing the same crime again in the future. Neutralization is a psychological theory but we demonstrate how several other legal theories foundational to key concepts or practices in criminal law (moral disengagement, restorative justice, the entrapment defense, the expressive power of law, and legal legitimacy) support our argument that moral minimization carries criminogenic risks. Against these risks, the purported benefits of moral minimization – the production of additional true confessions – are unproven. We raise and respond to counter-arguments and conclude that the use of moral minimization in interrogation should cease absent new evidence of its benefits. In the alternative, we suggest some avenues to curtail the practice.

Suggested Citation

McAdams, Richard H. and Etienne, Margareth, Criminogenic Risks of Interrogation (Spring 2022). U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 786, University of Illinois College of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 22-12, Available at SSRN: or

Richard H. McAdams (Contact Author)

University of Chicago Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-834-2520 (Phone)

Margareth Etienne

University of Illinois College of Law ( email )

504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
United States
217-245-0878 (Phone)
217-244-1478 (Fax)

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