Sunday, August 05, 2007

Mistakes at the reference desk

Mistakes Were Made, But Not by Me is the title of a new book by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. It is a great book, quite freeing and humbling.

Why do I say humbling? Because Chapter 5, “Law and Disorder” critiques a book I had always considered a core item for a public law library, Criminal Interrogation and Confessions by Fred E. Inbau, John E. Reid, Joseph P. Buckley, and Brian C. Jayne. It turns out that this book, in spite of its popularity as a police training manual, has been roundly criticized in legal and psychological literature. Why did a person like me, who is fascinated by wrongful convictions not look at this book more critically when I read passages during slow days at reference?

Now why did I consider this a core item? Because my predecessors at the library had purchased it, I deferred to their judgment. I relied upon the reputation of the library. Plus, the book looked so impressive with its solid binding and lovely thick paper. It looked serious and all the other books on the shelf looked reliable, too. I never made the connection to the coercive interrogation techniques described within it to the articles and essays on wrongful convictions. I surrendered my judgment to authority, the author’s: “The manual is written in an authoritative tone as if it were the voice of God revealing indisputable truths, but in fact it fails to teach its readers a core principle of scientific thinking: the importance of examining and ruling out other possible explanations for a person’s behavior before deciding which one is the most likely.”

Tavris and Aronson write about the techniques and the business Reid has developed The Reid interrogation is used by insurance, workman’s comp, and employer investigators in situations in which an in individual is not protected by Miranda.

And I should have read Miranda. If I had, I would have known::
“Inbau and Reid's Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, [134] the police manual which the Miranda Court cited repeatedly as a valuable source of information about police practices and "what in fact goes on in the interrogation room," [135] has recently been republished in its third edition. [136] Despite the Miranda [*536] Court's criticism of the deceptive and coercive strategies advocated by the authors, the third edition contains largely the same interrogation tactics as earlier editions, some even more boldly asserted. [137] The fact that interrogators still tend to ignore a suspect's assertion of his constitutional rights is apparent in the frequency with which courts have had to address this issue. [138]Ada Clapp, THE SECOND CIRCUIT REVIEW -- 1988-1989 TERM: CRIMINAL PROCEDURE: THE SECOND CIRCUIT ADOPTS A CLARIFICATION APPROACH TO AMBIGUOUS REQUESTS FOR COUNSEL: UNITED STATES V. GOTAY. *56 Brooklyn L. Rev. 511, 535-536

This week, I will have to follow up on the footnotes and references in Mistakes were Made. When I ran Inbau /s reid in Lexis combined cases files, I got 122 results. In law reviews combined, I got 193. The Reid technique run through law reviews pulled up 19 hits. Ebsco academic premier pulled up two hits with the phrase Reid techniques. In Ncjrs, Reid technique pulled up 46 hits.

Why is this important? Well, the library is seen as an authority. I relied upon my predecessors at Alameda. If someone came to the reference technique and asked for Inbau and Reid, I would want to suggest reading the critical articles.

Now, I just have to figure out a way to get the catalog and library resources to encourage users to think critically.


Jim Milles said...

Jacqui, the continued reliance on this police interrogation text is an excellent example of the unfortunate neglect of academic literature by the practicing bar. So much legal scholarship is often dismissed as abstract an unrelated to real legal practice, when I have always argued that scholarship, particularly interdisciplinary scholarship of the type which has critiqued these police interrogation methods, is important and eminently practical.

Jacqueline Cantwell said...


The criminal defense attorneys are very aware that police interrogations are unreliable. In Mistakes were Made, the authors point out that prosecutors (a division of the practicing bar) and police defend interrogations for complex reasons. Police and prosecutors continue to rely on this text because of “conformation bias” and just bad science. The police and prosecutors don’t want to admit to mistakes; their methods can manipulate vulnerable people. Most people are not aware that police can lie during an interrogation and just wear a person out.

Juries believe confessions because an authority confirms a bias that an arrested person is a guilty person. Police deal with bad people and horrible situations; many guilty people argue that they are innocent. Police work is very difficult; most people are happy to ignore what the police do. Your answer to my post could actually be expanded: Why have police procedures proven so resistant to scholarly criticism? How many Mollen Commisions, Ramparts Investigations until things change? Criminal law relies upon the police report. I am actually surprised that law librarians have not been more fascinated by the question of evidence and documents in criminal cases.

What I wanted to point out in my post was that our libraries, especially in smaller systems, do not help researchers connect books to critical texts. Smaller libraries have purchased online systems that emphasize purchasing. The online catalog is flat. Controlled subject headings, cross references, links to databases just don’t exist in the smaller on-line catalog. The burden is on the user. I think the popularity of Google is that it pulls varied sources and lets people start researching more widely than our catalogs permit.

Also, how many small law libraries purchase indexes for materials other than law materials? I suspect most don’t. I know that I rely on my library card to Brooklyn Public for non-legal databases.

I think we have started an interesting discussion here: How can law libraries contribute to better communication amongst the bench, bar, and public?

Betsy McKenzie said...

What a fascinating question and discussion! Good for you, Jacqui! When I was in library school, I had to write papers about the obligation of libraries to purchase and present books on all sides of issues, even if it was distasteful to the librarian. One of the items that show up in the library literature about those issues (like buying Mein Kampf, for instance), is that people tend to gravitate to books that support their own beliefs and to ignore writings that challenge those beliefs.

I really like the idea of a catalog being able to show, not just "other references on this topic" (which you can do now, at least in Innovative), but also, "references criticizing this material" What a terrific idea -- though from the research I mentioned above, perhaps the only folks who might use the contra materials would be debaters and students writing papers looking at the pros and cons of an issue. It would still be worthwhile to offer it.

I have thought for a long time that I get the fun end of the research by just helping the user find what they want -- then I get to leave them to read it and wrestle with it. Maybe librarians need to proffer more than just finding materials.

This also goes to Jim's remarks recently about authority -- who do you trust? Great topic!