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Getting to "I Confess"

A FEW OF THE key methods an interrogator uses to gain a confession is to help the suspect rationalize the behavior, project blame onto someone or something else, or minimize the severity or importance of the crime. Once the suspect’s guilt and shame are reduced, the theory goes, he or she will more readily confess. The question is, what approach should be taken in any given case?

In an article in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Special Agent Brian Parsi Boetig explains how, in employing those methods, interrogators can use “criminological theories of deviance” to help gain confessions. For example, the “rational choice” theory posits that people do what’s in their self-interest.

If an interrogator uses this theme, he or she typically attempts to rationalize the suspect’s behavior, such as by telling a woman who is suspected of vandalizing her ex-boyfriend’s car that her behavior was acceptable given that the boyfriend wouldn’t return her calls. The interrogator might also project blame on the boyfriend for not treating the suspect right and minimize the woman’s shame by pointing out that she could have committed more severe crimes against the boyfriend, but did not.

Boetig describes various other crime theories as well, and he explains how they can be used to elicit confessions. These theories include the idea that deviance is associated with physical or mental illness, that crime is attributable to social conditions such as poverty, and that demons or Satan cause people to commit crime.

For example, using the “social condition stratagem in a corporate embezzlement, an investigator “can present evidence of obtaining the American dream as so embedded in the culture that nobody could be faulted for taking whatever means necessary.”