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What is an Interrogation?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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An interrogation is a questioning session in which a questioner attempts to get information from someone who is believed to be involved with a situation or who may have information which could be of use. In a well conducted interrogation, the questioner remains in control at all times. There are a number of techniques which can be used in interrogations, some of which are highly controversial.

A classic situation in which an interrogation might be used is in a criminal case where someone is arrested on suspicion of having committed a crime like murder or rape. The suspect is taken to an interrogation room for questioning by law enforcement. The goal of the law enforcement officers is to determine whether or not the suspect committed the crime and to gather evidence which can be used in a trial to convict the accused. Interrogation is also used by the military to gather intelligence, by intelligence agencies investigating security issues, and in various other government applications such as internal investigations of government agencies.

Historically, interrogation was often brutal. Torture was utilized to quickly extract information, even though that information was not always accurate. Numerous studies in the 20th century demonstrated that people will say anything when they are tortured if they think that their words will get the torture to stop, which makes this technique less than ideal for cases in which law enforcement officers want to get valid information.

Good interrogation practices involve utilizing psychological techniques to keep the person being questioned uneasy so that he or she will be more likely to answer questions, without crossing a line into torture and eliciting a false confession. One popular method in North America is the Reid technique, which stresses establishing a rapport with the person being questioned, keeping the interrogation room psychologically unfriendly, and being highly alert to speech patterns and body movements which indicate that the person being questioned is acting deceptively.

Concerns about dubious interrogation practices have led many nations to pass laws which protect the rights of people being questioned. These rights vary from nation to nation, and people should familiarize themselves with their rights in the event of an interrogation so that they can be prepared. Travelers in particular should research the laws in countries they are visiting because rights taken for granted in one country may not be extended to people in another, although generally foreign citizens are entitled to consular representation at interrogations.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By titans62 — On Sep 03, 2011

@stl156 - I have been in an interrogation room, because I was the only witness to an incident, and it was pretty uneventful and was more of just a question and answer session. I witnessed a potential assault with a deadly weapon case and was a little afraid going in because I did not know what to expect or how intense they would be about it. When I went in they were not intense at all and were simply asking me what I saw and to be as descriptive as possible.

The person who was attacked was questioned before me and I waited outside and they closed the door. After he was done they let me come in and apparently asked the same questions to me only the kept the door open for me, probably because they knew I was nervous. I asked the guy later how the cops acted towards him and he said they were very calm, collected and to the point, which was how they acted to me. It could just be that both of us were the whistleblowers on what happened but it did not seem to me like they would abuse a suspect in a case like this which was semi-serious.

By kentuckycat — On Sep 02, 2011

Police know the consequences of their actions and that any little mistake can allow the suspect to be let go. Although police brutality does happen I find it unlikely that police will rough up a suspect just so they can confess to a petty crime.

If the police do commit police brutality to a suspect that was say arrested for murder they can completely bungle the case and lose prosecuting the suspect.

Again, I do know police brutality does happen but I think it may be a little sensationalized and because of the pressure on the police to follow protocol to the fullest degree there comes more harm than good in roughing up a suspect.

By stl156 — On Sep 02, 2011

@Emilski - I have heard stories such as that but I do not really buy into the perception that it occurs more in rural areas than in the cities. I think this may be more of an urban legend and just going along with the perception of small town cops that you mentioned.

I will say though that it would make sense that in a small area such as where I live the police could get away with more in the interrogation process, because of the lack of resources in small areas concerning law considering police brutality is usually a major case and attracts media attention.

By Emilski — On Sep 01, 2011

I have heard numerous stories about police being brutal to suspects during interrogation. I have heard stories of this happening in smaller towns not just in cities.

There is a perception out there that small town cops feel they have more power because they are the law of a small area. I have hear of instances where small town cops will interrogate suspects and abuse them during the interrogation process and because of the politics of smaller towns the police usually do not get caught or prosecuted.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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