John Oliver said there’s an entire industry in the world of policing that claims to be able to spot liars and can train cops to spot liars.
“But it’s all bullshit,” he said on Sunday night’s “Last Week Tonight” on HBO.
Police will often work relentlessly to get a confession. Many use an interrogation method known as the Reid technique, which was designed in the 1950s by former Chicago police officer John E. Reid.
“The Reid technique’s become one of those things that just culturally comes with being a cop, y’know like their fondness for donuts,” Oliver said. “Or their complicity in the perpetuation of state-sponsored violence.”
But the Reid technique is full of inconsistencies. Oliver noted that it claims someone being dishonest may avoid direct eye contact, but also that someone who is lying might “overcompensate” by staring.
“Meaning, if you have eyes, you’re basically fucked,” Oliver said.
What these techniques do, however, is wear down suspects, especially after lengthy and relentless questioning. One study found false confessions occurred after an average interrogation time of more than 16 hours.
“Which can be utterly exhausting,” Oliver said. “Innocent people can wind up confessing just to escape the stress of that situation.”
Some offer false confessions in hopes that they can later recant and that they’ll be cleared when more evidence emerges. But as Oliver pointed out, it can be difficult to recant because when the police have a confession in hand, they often stop investigating.
Why even talk at all? Many don’t know better. According to Oliver, 80 percent of suspects waive their Miranda rights, many thinking they don’t need a lawyer and have nothing to hide.
“But not having a lawyer makes you’re incredibly vulnerable,” Oliver said. “Because for one thing, a lawyer might clue you in to an absolutely insane power that police in America have been given by the Supreme Court.”
That power? They can lie as they interrogate you.
Oliver even had footage of a cop lying to a suspect by saying he can’t lie about the evidence as he presented supposed evidence that he was lying about.
Oliver concluded with an all-too-honest skit about what a police interrogation might really look like:
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