Coerced Fate: How Negotiation Models Lead to False Confessions

Kiera Janzen | January 1, 2019

Police interrogators across the United States employ tactics that can lead to coerced, often false, confessions. While police departments have shifted away from physically coercive methods of interrogation, psychologically coercive practices that utilize deceit have taken their place. The reliability of confession evidence becomes a significant concern when interrogators elicit confessions using these techniques. Further demonstrating the need for change in this realm, false confessions and wrongful convictions place a financial burden on cities and taxpayers, who foot the bill for settlements and damages resulting from these cases. The current legal framework in the U.S. permits—by failing to explicitly prohibit—these tactics, and police departments across the nation implement and encourage officers to use them. The psychologically coercive methods that police employ in interrogations share elements with methods that parties often use in negotiations. To analyze why interrogators engage in these practices and why they are successful in eliciting confessions, this Comment examines psychologically coerced confessions under the frameworks of three commonly used negotiation models: 1) the position-based model, 2) the interest-based model, and 3) the core concerns model. This analysis illustrates the need for systemic change to the laws applicable to police interrogations, the widely used methods of interrogation, and the inter-departmental practices that perpetuate coercive tactics. Specifically, this Comment suggests a cross-institutional approach to reform in which lawmakers enact legislation that sets standards for interrogations, judges prohibit evidence elicited through psychologically coercive tactics, and police departments overhaul their interrogation practices and hold officers accountable when they engage in psychologically coercive techniques.