How the War on Terror May Affect Domestic Interrogations: The 24 Effect
17 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2007
For the first time since Miranda was decided nearly 40 years ago, interrogation techniques have recently been at the forefront of the American consciousness. The war on terror has forced Americans to grapple with the definition of torture, whether torture is ever an appropriate interrogation technique, whether it is an effective interrogation technique, and so on. We now regularly see torture depicted in fiction, on the news, and on the internet. I call the omnipresence of depictions and discussions of torture in popular culture the "24 effect." My concern is not that the 24 effect will necessarily cause torture to spill over from the war on terror into local police departments' interrogation rooms. I don't believe that the causal relationship is nearly that direct. Rather, my concern is that once the public has been inured to torture by its repeated factual and fictional representations - even its disturbing representations - it will increasingly discount the effect of non-physical coercive interrogation techniques on criminal defendants and will become more receptive to the use of those non-torturous techniques in run-of-the-mill criminal cases.
The ultimate result of the 24 effect, therefore, will likely be a shifting of the baseline for permissible treatment of criminal defendants; because psychological coercion, trickery, false promises and threats have a lesser visceral impact than the physical torture to which we are all becoming accustomed, courts as well as the public at large are likely to become more accepting of these techniques. This is particularly distressing given the fact that non-torturous but coercive interrogation techniques are highly correlated with unreliable confessions and with wrongful convictions. Thus, in addition to the dignitary harms that befall criminal defendants and the rest of society whenever statements are coerced from criminal defendants, the bottom-line result of the 24 effect will be more convictions of the innocent and, by logical extension, more guilty criminals going unpunished.
Keywords: torture, interrogation, Miranda, third degree, media, culture, television
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