Let’s Pretend The Truth Is Important (For Just A Minute, Anyway).

Kids who may be victims of abuse are put through something called a “victim sensitive interview.” Since children, in theory, don’t necessarily want to talk about being abused the entire interview process is a staged affair with few onlookers (that the child knows about, anyway) in a comfortable setting.  These interviews are (or should be) conducted by investigators with lots of training as conducting them wrong runs the potential double-hazard of either not getting enough information from the child, or getting suggested (ie. unreliable) information from the child.

We spend millions of dollars each year in an attempt to get objectively genuine information from children who may not know how or may not want to discuss what happened.We want the truth from those kids and we want it in a way that it can’t be questioned.

That makes sense.

There is no shortage of studies explaining both best techniques to produce the most reliable information as well as the techniques that produce garbage information. There are experts who have dedicated their careers to the study and even set up labs to test the suggestibility of interviewed subjects.

There’s a lot of time, money, and effort spent ensuring the truth comes out- after all, if the interviewer screws it up the consequence may be failing the most frail and vulnerable of people.

Potential abusers go through interviews, too. They’re not called “victim sensitive interviews” because they aren’t anything like the “victim sensitive” process. They’re called “interrogations.”

Since potential defendants, in theory, don’t necessarily want to talk about being abusers the entire interrogation is a staged affair.  It typically takes place in a spartan room devoid of comfort which may have a couple of investigators and who knows how many more watching over a video monitor.

These interviews are conducted by a trained investigator using a psychologically suggestive technique called the Reid Technique. Like the victim sensitive interview techniques, the Reid method has been studied and analyzed for years yielding no shortage of people who’ve acquiesced to the psychological games and confessed to crimes (even murder) that they factually did not commit.

While it can be reliable it also can be extremely unreliable- with the difference often not being in the training of the interrogator, but rather the interrogator’s preconceived belief of what the defendant should be saying.

If the risk of a poor child sensitive interview technique is an abuser going free, decades of exoneration have shown us that the risk of poor Reid Technique is caging up people that the police have already determined are guilty even when they aren’t.

Notwithstanding the number of both practical (ie. Numbers of “confessed” criminals being declared actually innocent in post-trial proceedings) and scholarly negative review of interrogations done with Reid, it’s still commonplace in interrogations throughout the country. You’d think that a system which so poorly distorts the truth might be jettisoned in favor of something more reliable but, sadly, the system is focused only on “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” (and not truth).

Both victim sensitive interviews and interrogations use well-researched methods to try and convince people who’d remain quiet to tell their deepest secrets to strangers.  The stark contrast in reliability between the two has less to do with the subject of the interaction than it does the beliefs and leading nature of person conducting the interview.  This is troubling.

What actually happened or what was actually in somebody’s mind should be more important than the beliefs of the interviewer, and it only makes sense that we should be constantly working on better and more objective ways to get at that information.

Of course, we would only do that if the truth really matters. Which, with respect to the criminally accused, it likely never will.

 

Making a Murderer: Did Steven Avery Actually Do It?

“What do you think about Making a Murderer?”  By the end of December I had to answer that question several times a week.  The answer was, of course, “I don’t know.”  I hadn’t really planned to watch another criminal trial documentary.

I don’t own the remote, though. I bought the remote. Paid for it with my own money, even.  I don’t get to touch it in any substantive way other than passing it over to The Boss, though.

Now I’ve seen the whole series. People are still asking me what I think about it. I still don’t know if he is “really innocent” or guilty.  I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. Continue reading “Making a Murderer: Did Steven Avery Actually Do It?”

The Regular Person Standard.

I don’t know much about a lot of things. Nobody will dispute that. I might know a little about a few things. At least, people ask me questions as though they think I do. Of course, I’ve got a philosophy degree so I know that I really know nothing. That’s what the bearded, hippie, teaching assistants told me, anyway. I don’t know enough to disagree with them, that’s for sure.

My favorite legal questions are when friends and family of people without much exposure to law enforcement have that first “experience” and want to know what to do.

  •  “The police were banging on my brother’s door and screaming for him to come outside. What should he have done?”
  • “Some investigator showed up at my friend’s house and asked him to come talk at the station. The Investigator wouldn’t say what it was about. Is that normal?”
  • “The police wouldn’t let me answer my phone and were asking me weird questions. Why would they do that?”

Continue reading “The Regular Person Standard.”

The Kane County Sheriff’s “Candidate Forum” That Should Have Happened.

Look like I missed a great opportunity to learn a little about the next Kane County Sheriff last night. According to the Kane County Chronicle, there was a “forum” that covered all sorts of interesting stuff.  Compelling topics like who was hired by who’s dad to be a deputy in the Sheriff’s Office in the 1970’s, and how many degrees everybody has:

Each touted their advanced degrees and extensive experience as reasons why they should be sheriff – but also exchanged a few barbs.
Kramer’s father George Kramer was sheriff from 1978 to 1986 and hired him in 1979, giving him his start at the sheriff’s office. 
Kramer said he was one of 12 who passed the test and all were hired. 
“We both talked about our fathers who were previously in law enforcement. At the end of the day, they are not running for Kane County Sheriff,” Mayes said. 
“We talk about master’s degrees – I could make as compelling an argument about experience,” he said. “A degree without experience is nothing. But experience with a degree really allows you be able to work and continue moving forward.”

Continue reading “The Kane County Sheriff’s “Candidate Forum” That Should Have Happened.”

Policing and the Mentally Ill: presented without (or with very little) comment.

It’s not hard. Why does it get messed up so often?