Interrogative Specialists and False Confessions: Debunking the Con Artist Myth



Within the criminal justice system, confessions are an extremely powerful form of evidence. Unfortunately, innocent people sometimes falsely confess to crimes they did not actually commit. Such travesties of justice have sparked a significant degree of academic research into the false confession phenomenon. Within the existing literature, there exists a conceptual framework that the interrogative methods and actions of law enforcement officers are a key cause of false confessions with some researchers going so far as to suggest that law enforcement interrogators act as confidence men who trick criminal subjects into confessing. However, few researchers have actually questioned law enforcement officers about false confessions and even fewer have consulted with officers who specialize in interrogation. This study is a subset of a larger qualitative case study designed to explore the experiences of 13 federal law enforcement polygraph examiners who specialize in interrogation regarding their approach to criminal interrogation and their experiences with both true and false confessions. This study focused on the personal processes federal law enforcement polygraph examiners use in reviewing Miranda rights and documenting confessions. NVivo software was used to organize the data. Common themes in interview responses were then identified and revealed that participants employ an open, detailed, and straightforward approach in reviewing Miranda rights and documenting the confessions of criminal subjects. These findings contradict the premise that law enforcement interrogators inherently operate as confidence men by tricking and manipulating criminal subjects.


False confessions Interrogation Interrogative techniques Confession Polygraph 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© This is a U.S. government work and its text is not subject to copyright protection in the United States; however, its text may be subject to foreign copyright protection 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Federal Bureau of Investigation7DetroitUSA
  2. 2.Law Enforcement Behavioral Science ConsultantsOrlandoUSA

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