False Confessions Continue to Put Innocent People in Prison

Dorothy Varallo-Speckeen thought she was volunteering to help solve a child-abuse case when she walked into the police interrogation room in 2013. She learned quickly, however, that she was Detective Marcella O’Brien’s prime suspect. O’Brien believed that Varallo-Speckeen was guilty of breaking the legs of the 15-month-old girl she was babysitting, though Varallo-Speckeen swore that she was innocent.

During the two hours of interrogation O’Brien tried to convince Varallo-Speckeen that she broke the child’s legs while changing her diaper, even though Varallo-Speckeen repeatedly insisted that she had not changed the child’s diaper that day. Recordings of the interrogation showed O’Brien interrupting and talking over Varallo-Speckeen, rejecting instantly anything she said that did not go along with O’Brien’s theory.

After two hours of this Dorothy Varallo-Speckeen admitted to a crime she knows she didn’t commit.

O’Brien’s interrogation tactics appeared to follow the Reid Technique of Interviewing and Interrogation, the “gold standard” of interrogation methods. Though many law enforcement officials are trained in the Reid Technique, studies have shown that it is more likely to elicit false confessions than other interrogation methods.

Critics of the Reid Technique recommend the PEACE method of interrogation, which is widely used in the U.K. When utilizing the PEACE method, interrogators ask their interviewees for their version of events without accusing or lying to the interviewee, a practice that is used in the Reid Technique.

Though there are people on both sides of the Reid Technique issue, most are in agreement that change is needed to prevent false confessions and keep innocent people out of prison.

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