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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant analysis, February 29, 2008
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This review is from: Police Interrogation and American Justice (Hardcover)
Richard Leo brilliantly analyzes the function of police interrogations within the larger adversarial system of U.S. criminal justice. Whereas interrogations are presented as a neutral tool for truth-seeking, Leo shows how in reality police function as an unmonitored and unchecked arm of the prosecution, targeting both guilty and innocent suspects alike in a ruthless and fraudulent game of psychological manipulation in which they hold all the cards. Leo uses a historical lens to show how today's psychologically coercive techniques evolved from the widespread "third-degree" practices outlawed in the 1930s. Whereas the third-degree was visibly vicious and lawless, modern interrogators hide behind a façade of science and professionalism that allows them to wield enormous unchecked power and influence over criminal justice outcomes.

Popular belief in the "myth of the psychological interrogation" - that only the guilty confess and that confession statements are reliable - prevents judges and jurors from understanding is that the extreme and sophisticated psychological coercion tactics wielded in some interrogations, especially in serious or high-profile cases, can make almost anyone feel helpless enough to falsely confess, Leo argues. He explains how the final product is jointly scripted by the police and the hapless suspect into such a compelling narrative that a fair trial is rendered impossible.

One of the book's many strengths is its focus on topics that are rarely studied in much depth, such as this topic of how the postadmission narrative is constructed. Another rarely highlighted topic is the corrupting effect of systematic police deception in reports and court testimony about what goes on in the interrogation room. Leo also analyzes the state of the Miranda warnings, which he argues have been transformed into a "public relations coup" and gutted to the point that they serve not as a protection for suspects but as yet another tool of law enforcement. And he provides timely discussion of the limitations of applying artificial laboratory research to the real world of law and order.

Leo concludes by arguing that we are entering the "Era of Innocence," as symbolized by DNA testing exonerating hundreds of innocent convicts, in which reforms can be undertaken to transform police interrogation from an adversarial to a truth-finding practice. His proposed reforms include mandatory electronic recording, requiring probable cause to interrogate, prohibiting promises or threats, protecting vulnerable populations such as the mentally retarded, mentally ill and juveniles, and allowing expert witness testimony about coercive interrogation techniques.

Throughout this compelling volume, Leo strengthens his arguments using rich examples drawn from his massive collection of firsthand data from research and consultation in actual criminal cases. This cutting-edge book is a must-read for anyone involved in or interested in the criminal justice system.
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