Before discussing interrogation, it is helpful to better understand criminal law and criminal procedure, as those two subjects greatly influence interrogation. In the United States legal system, there are two types of laws that are meant to punish wrongdoing, and/or compensate victims of those acts. These are known as criminal law, and civil law.

Civil law addresses behavior that causes some sort of injury to an individual, or other private party, through lawsuits. The repercussions for any parties that are found liable for these acts are generally monetary, such as a damages award, but can also include court-ordered remedies such as injunctions or restraining orders.

Criminal law addresses behavior that is considered to be an offense against society, the state, or public. This remains true even if the victim is one singular person. A person who is convicted of a crime may be forced to pay fines. Additionally, they may lose their freedom by being sentenced to either jail or prison time. No matter if someone is being charged with a serious crime or a minor crime, the accused person still has the right to a trial, as well as certain other legal protections which will be further discussed below.

The only two bodies that can bring a criminal case against someone would be the federal government, or a state government. Whether the accused is charged in federal court or in a state court largely depends on what crime they are being charged with, as well as where the alleged offense occurred. Although every state has their own set of criminal laws, there are specific Constitutional rights that apply to every defendant.

These rights include:

  • Right To A Speedy Trial: The Sixth Amendment guarantees a criminal defendant the right to a speedy trial, in order to prevent the accused from being kept in jail for extended periods of time without adjudication;
  • Right To A Jury: The Sixth Amendment also guarantees the right to a trial by jury, although many jurisdictions allow the defendant to waive a jury in favor of a bench trial, in which guilt is determined by a judge. However, this is the defendant’s choice only, and this right is universal with criminal prosecution as civil trials have their own rules regarding jury rights;
  • Miranda Rights: Miranda rights provide the criminal defendant with access to an attorney, whether or not they can afford one to aid in their defense. Miranda rights also grant various other protections; and
  • Protection Against Self Incrimination: Also known as “pleading the fifth,” this Constitutional protection asserts that a defendant cannot be forced to testify against their own interest.

What Is Criminal Procedure?

Criminal procedure refers to the overall legal process of adjudicating claims for a person who is accused of violating criminal laws. The intention behind all criminal procedures is known as the “presumption of innocence,” which means that a suspect is considered to be innocent until they are proven guilty.

As such, the burden of proof is placed on the state prosecution to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant actually committed the crime they are being accused of committing. Criminal procedures provide a variety of Constitutional protections for the defendant, which are intended to prevent abuses of the justice system. Some of these protections include the right against unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as the aforementioned right to an attorney and the right not to incriminate oneself.

Criminal procedure can be thought of as a timeline which begins with the apprehension of the suspect, and ends with the final verdict or appeal. However, procedural guidelines also govern other after-measures, such as probation or parole. Generally speaking, the criminal procedure timeline is as follows:

  • Stop, detention, and arrest;
  • Search and seizure;
  • Booking and filing charges;
  • Suspect and/or eyewitness lineup identifications;
  • Appointment of counsel, or assigning a court-appointed lawyer for those who cannot obtain counsel on their own;
  • Plea bargaining;
  • Evidence or discovery;
  • Trial;
  • Sentencing;
  • Appeal; and
  • Probation and parole.

What Is An Interrogation?

An interrogation is the direct questioning of a person, under conditions which are either partly or fully controlled by the questioner. A police interrogation generally involves persuasion, influence, and/or trickery in order to obtain a confession, or an admission of anything that would implicate the suspect in criminal behavior.

An interrogation can occur at the police station, in jail, or at the scene of a crime. There are two definitive types of police interrogations:

  • Custodial Interrogation: A custodial interrogation would be the interrogation of a person in police custody, who is reasonably suspected of being directly involved in or responsible for an offense. The person who is being interrogated is not free to leave police custody. It is imperative to note that once a person is in police custody, the suspect must be read their Miranda rights if the police wish to question them and to use the provided answers as evidence at trial; and
  • Non Custodial Interrogation: Also called an interview, a non custodial interrogation is the gathering of information by police from a person who is not yet officially considered to be a suspect for the offense that is being investigated. An interviewee is not in police custody, and as such, they are free to leave at any time. A non custodial interview does not require the police to read the suspect their Miranda rights, however, in order to use gathered statements as evidence at trial.

In terms of how an interrogation may end, a non custodial interrogation can be ended simply by leaving. If the police do not allow the person to leave, then the interrogation has changed from a non custodial interrogation to a custodial interrogation, and the police must provide the interviewee with their Miranda rights.

A custodial police interrogation may only be stopped by a clear request for an attorney, or a clear request to remain silent. However, if after either request the suspect initiates conversation, then any statements that are made may be used against the suspect as evidence at trial.

What Are Some Legal Interrogation Techniques? What Are Some Illegal Interrogation Techniques?

Information that is voluntarily disclosed to the police is generally considered to be admissible at trial. In order to elicit voluntary statements, the police may use:

  • Psychological ploys, such as outright lying or selectively revealing important facts;
  • Verbal trickery; and/or
  • Any other nonviolent and non-coercive deception.

When trying to elicit information from a suspect, the police are not allowed to:

  • Use physical force, such as torture;
  • Use mental coercion, such as mental torture, brainwashing, or drugging;
  • Use threats and/or insults;
  • Expose the suspect to any unpleasant and/or inhumane treatment; and
  • Use inducements, such as the promise of bail or of non-prosecution.

Evidence that is obtained directly as a result of an illegal interrogation cannot be used in court as evidence against a defendant; in other words, it is inadmissible in court. Additionally, evidence that would not have been obtained but for the illegal interrogation may also be considered inadmissible at trial.

Do I Need A Lawyer For Issues Associated With Police Interrogation?

If you are being interrogated by the police, or have been interrogated by the police and feel that your rights have been violated, you should consult with an experienced and local criminal lawyer immediately.

An attorney can inform you of your legal rights and options under your state’s specific laws, and can provide you with necessary legal counsel in order to avoid incriminating yourself during interrogation. Your attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.