Episode 50: One on One with James Trainum Discussing False Confessions

One on One with James Trainum, an Expert in Police Interrogation Tactics and False Confessions

False confessions occur and they are much more commonplace than people believe or are willing to admit. Many scoff at the notion that someone would or could admit to a crime they didn’t commit. But it happens and happens regularly. According to the Innocence Project, 25% of all wrongful convictions involve a false confession. That is a staggering number – ¼ of all wrongful convictions involve a false confession and those figures don’t include the cases in which the accused falsely confessed but who ended up being charged but not convicted, charged but whose case was dismissed and who were investigated but never charged. This is too important a subject to ignore and so in this episode, I go one on one with an expert in police interrogation tactics who himself participated in obtaining a false confession and has since spent his career trying to figure out and why that false confessions occurred, how they occur in general and how to put a stop to the practices that lead to them. James Trainum, a former detective with the Washington D.C. Police Department, is my guest.

No one is perhaps more qualified to speak on the subject. Trainum spent 27 years with a spolice officer with the majority of that time as a detective. He investigated major cases, cold cases, and homicides. Trainum is an expert in the police interrogation tactics and written extensively, consulted on and even testified about the police interrogation tactics and one method in particular, The Reid Technique. He has written extensively on the subject and was one of those chosen by the Department of Justice to review the New Orleans Police Department’s interrogation practices and to report a report about them. He has appeared in/on NPR, the New Yorker magazine, The New York Times, 48 Hours, USA Today and Netflix on the series about Confession Tapes, to name a few. Trainum wrote a book on the subject, How the Police Generate False Confessions that is available on Amazon and Kindle.

Trainum is my first “non” lawyer guest and his description of the Reid Technique, the most commonly used interrogation tactic and method is jaw dropping. Wait until you hear about this method. Not only will Trainum’s description of the technique and tactics leave you shaking your head, e.g., the room is designed to be small, the detective sits uncomfortably close to the subject, the subject’s guilt is predetermined and assumed without question and when the subject questions it or denies it, the technique involves the detective cutting off the denials. It is a monologue by the detective until the subject agrees that he/she did it. The entire process is about increasing the subject’s anxiety level and encouraging the person to distrust their own defense mechanisms and to emotionally replace those with cooperation with the police. Not only does Trainum describe this method but he gives real life examples of cases where this has occurred and how you or someone you love can avoid being in that position.

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