Police interrogation tactics will always be an issue in cases where a gang member has made incriminating statements, hence the safeguards of Miranda v. Arizona. Miranda's warnings and waivers were intended to afford custodial suspects an informed choice between speech and silence, and to prevent involuntary statements. This ensures that an in-custody criminal suspect is aware they have the right not to incriminate themselves and that they’re entitled to the assistance of an attorney during any interrogation.
There are three legal prerequisites that require a Miranda admonishment be given:
The legal definition of custody for the purposes of Miranda typically means a person is in custody when they have been deprived of their freedom in any significant way or are led to believe, as a reasonable person, that they’re so deprived. For purposes of Miranda, a person isn’t in custody unless they’ve been formally arrested or there exists a restraint on freedom of movement of the degree associated with a formal arrest. Note: Juveniles are subject to other protections beyond the subject of this article. As always, check with your departmental policy if you have any questions.
The Beheler Admonishment
The Beheler Admonishment is something you do to take the custody out of the interrogation. Beheler makes it clear to the person that they’re not in custody and are free to leave whenever they choose. It’s simply telling the suspect at the beginning of the interview that they’re not under arrest and are free to terminate the interview and leave whenever they choose. No reasonable person would believe they’re about to be arrested when told that they’re free to terminate the questioning and walk away.
The key is that they’re really free to leave. You can’t block the door or have your car block their car. They can’t be in a secure facility when you give the admonishment. The reality must match your words.
Talk to Me
As with everything police officers do, it’s important to act in an ethical manner when conducting an interview. It’s important to not approach an interview thinking that a crime is a “slam dunk.” Even in cases where the evidence that you have the right gang member in custody seems overwhelming, it’s still important to obtain a statement and lock the suspect into a version of events.
A confession is useless if not legally obtained. Therefore a Miranda advisory, along with the rest of the interview, should be videotaped and audio-taped, so a complete transcript of the interview can be created later. The video will serve as a record of what was said, and it can show the nonverbal cues that can help determine the culpability of the suspect.
Take extra precautions with gang members, especially if the suspect is mentally slow, drunk, injured or criminally unsophisticated. It’s a requirement that they understand and voluntarily waive rights. The statement you obtain must be the product of free and deliberate choice rather than coercion, intimidation or deception. Factors to look at include age, criminal experience, education level, background, intelligence, capacity to understand the warnings. Suggesting a defense is also very common, but be careful. This should be considered more of a last-ditch technique since what you suggest may be the defense that gets the suspect acquitted. Still, don’t avoid what really could be a defense. Search for the truth.
Lies, Lies, Lies
The key to understanding when a gang member is lying to you is realizing the level of stress the gang member is under when they tell a lie. Some people can show signs of stress even when they’re telling the truth. Some people can lie about significant events without showing any signs of stress. Interviewing isn’t an exact science. Each gang member interview is different, and not all techniques will work on all gang suspects. It’s critical that gang investigators have a solid understanding of psychology and human behavior.
Before getting into specifics with your gangster suspect, it’s important to establish a rapport, much like you would do if talking to a gang member on the street during a field interview. You need to establish a baseline. How stressed are they before the interview becomes confrontational? What are they like in a relaxed state? This can be done with gang members by giving them a soda or coffee while getting basic, non-threatening information, such as details about their life that they’d unlikely lie about.
Concentrate on when a gang member tries to oversell you on their version of events, or they feel the need to qualify their responses. When a gang member says, “honestly” or “I wouldn’t lie” or “I swear on my mother,” these are cues that they’re most likely lying to you. The same is true when you ask a specific question and get an indirect answer.
Tell Me Story
Let the gangster provide a narrative description of the events. The more details they give the better. The purpose is to get as much information as possible before you change from “nice guy” to someone who’s confronting them and calling them a liar. Once you get the maximum amount of detail you think you’re going to get, challenge their story.
Many times the gangster will try to explain why physical evidence like DNA or prints may be at the scene of the crime. They’ll attempt to outsmart investigators, negating potentially damaging evidence by providing plausible explanations as to why it may be at the scene. Once we have a version of events and a story, we can then compare this to what we know, the physical evidence and witness statements.
Start chipping away at the details. Make contact with people with whom they said they were with, confirm where they were. Is there any proof? Do they have any way to verify they were in a certain area? Ask for receipts or conduct cell phone tower searches to either corroborate or debunk their story.
It’s legal for you, as an officer, to lie to someone to put pressure on them, but caution must be taken. Being highly confrontational can result in false confessions from gang members. Using aggressive scare tactics can increase the risk of a false confession. Take care to be only as confrontational as necessary by keeping the stress level low and by attacking details.
Types of Gang Members
When interviewing a gang member in an interview room at the police station, for example, the rules may change somewhat from a field interview. The gang member is now likely the subject of a serious case, they know they may be arrested if they admit involvement, and they’ll require more skill to interview compared to a street interview. The following are a few examples of typical gang member interviews and a suggestion on how to deal with individual types of gang members:
The Denier: The least sophisticated gang members will deny their involvement in the crime you’re investigating. This gang member will say things such as, “You got it wrong,” or, “You have the wrong guy.” When talking to you, they’ll avoid making eye contact and won’t want to be confronted on the details. The best way to deal with a basic denial is to confront the person and use time to your advantage. Over an extended period of time, you should be able to break this type of gang member. Confront them and demand specific details as to where they claim to have been during the crime, who they were with and who can confirm this. The more details you can lock this gang member into, the easier it will be to catch them in a lie, get them to break and give the real version of events.
The Minimizer: This gang member is attempting to minimize the crime to justify their actions. This gang member will blame society and everyone else but themselves for their actions. It’s suggested that you confront this person and use social referencing, such as, “A lot of people have it bad and don’t commit crimes of violence,” or, “Many people from gang-infested neighborhoods grow up and don’t become gang members.” By using social referencing, you can put responsibility back on the gang member and try to get a more accurate, less self-serving version of events. Also, by referencing their behavior, you may get them to admit what they did by playing along with their minimizations. No matter what they did, you can think of a gang member who did something worse. Many times getting them to put themselves at the scene and admit minimal involvement is the start to getting a full confession.
The Avoider: This gang member will hide behind a lawyer. He may sit in front of you and say nothing or the lawyer may object to the questions. This gang member won’t give a direct answer to any questions. It’s important to get personal with this gang member. He needs to be confronted, have his ego attacked and be challenged in order to provoke a response. It’s important not to show emotion when talking to gang members, as it tends to show weakness. Stay in control. When a gang member starts talking, let it roll and don’t interrupt him. Give him enough rope to effectively hang himself. After he has given his story, go back and start to confront him on the details. Once you’ve established that the gang member has lied to you, confront them.
There’s a lot to consider before conducting an interview with a gang member. But the more information you are able to gather, the more you have—either to use against them or to use to corroborate your case. Work with your department and your officers to ensure that the investigative interviews you perform are done so in accordance with the law.