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Pressure during investigative interview increases risk of wrong sentencing

Worldwide, many cases are known of the wrong person being sentenced and acquitted later. Such a wrong sentencing is often due to investigative interview techniques in which pressure is exerted on the subject. NSCR researcher Marijke Malsch is one of the authors of Interviews of suspects of crime: law and practice in European countries, in which the investigative interview regulations and practices in eight European countries are discussed. This reveals that the investigative interview techniques do not always proceed according to the rules.

Miscarriages of justice, such as the Schiedam Park murder case, occur in the Netherlands too. This case led to further research and recommendations to structure the investigative interview differently, and to report it better. In England and Wales, famous cases of miscarriages of justice are the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six and the Maguire Seven. Following these cases, the investigative interview practice was adjusted. In the United States, the Innocence Project investigated various sentences, which ultimately led to a large number of acquittals.

Investigative interview practice possibly more coercive than rules prescribe

Interviews of suspects of crime: law and practice in European countries, a chapter from The Oxford Handbook of Criminal Process, describes the existing investigative interview regulations, and the actual practice in Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands. The authors conclude that, although improvements have been implemented in the wake of miscarriages of justice, investigative interview practices still do not always follow the rules. The investigative interview techniques used reveal that more pressure and deception takes place than the rules prescribe.

Recommendation to record investigative interviews to watch them later

Several countries state that they work according to the rules of investigative interviewing. Under these rules, the suspect may freely tell his or her story without pressure being exerted to confess. Nevertheless, in these countries, investigative interview techniques are still used in which pressure is exerted on the suspect, for which false evidence is used or in which the interviewer clearly asks questions based on the assumption of guilt. As a result of this, the risk of a false confession increases. This is particularly the case for the group of vulnerable suspects, such as people with a moderate mental disability. The authors therefore recommend that all hearings are recorded so that it becomes possible to review the interview proceedings afterwards. This can be vitally important for determining the truth if there is a case of severe doubt about the investigative interview techniques used or the correctness of a confession.

Publication details and further reading

Malsch, M. & De Boer, M.M. (2019). Interviews of suspects of crime: law and practice in European countries. In D.K. Brown, J.I. Turner & B. Weisser (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Criminal Process.

Prof. Marijke Malsch LL.M.

Senior Researcher

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