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The Discourse of Police Interviews$
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Marianne Mason and Frances Rock

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226647654

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226647821.001.0001

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The Discourse Structure of Blame Mitigation in a Police Interrogation

The Discourse Structure of Blame Mitigation in a Police Interrogation

(p.85) Chapter Five The Discourse Structure of Blame Mitigation in a Police Interrogation
The Discourse of Police Interviews

Philip Gaines

University of Chicago Press

Most American police interviewers have traditionally employed a range of manipulative interrogation techniques on suspects whom they deem to be guilty in order to extract a confession. Scholars of police interrogation and confession have identified two overarching approaches—maximization and minimization—used by police to, respectively, induce a sense of hopelessness in view of the dire consequences of not confessing and provide mitigating justifications for the suspect in order to make confession more palatable. One such minimization technique is the mitigation of blame—the focus of this chapter. Discourse analysis of the patterns of questioning in the interrogation of a 16-year-old accused of smothering her baby shows the development of a number of themes that are combined to mitigate the suspect’s blame for the alleged murder: the discursive construction of provocation, spontaneity, and responsibility. In summary, interrogators mitigated blame by constructing a narrative in which the suspect 1) was provoked to act because of resentment toward her mother over being burdened with excessive child care, 2) acted spontaneously rather than premeditatedly, and 3) suffered from mental and relational dysfunction for which she was responsible.

Keywords:   false confession, police interrogation, maximization, minimization, Reid technique

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