Interview with Bradford J. Beyer, Author of Rethinking the False Confession Phenomenon: A Law Enforcement Perspective

What inspired you to start writing?

Bradford Beyer Brad Rethinking the False Confession Phenomenon
Bradford Beyer Brad Rethinking the False Confession Phenomenon

Like many others in my family, I have always had a creative streak.  While my current book is not a work of fiction, writing has afforded me an opportunity to speak out on the things that I believe and have personally experienced during the course of my profession as a federal law enforcement officer and criminal interrogator.  In short, experience has helped me to identify my perception of the problem and creativity has driven me to fight back in writing against the prevailing sentiment. 

How do you handle literary criticism?

After completing my manuscript about the false confession phenomenon, a prospective publisher submitted it to various academic peer reviewers.  At the time, my manuscript was entitled: “False Assumptions About False Confessions: The Academic War Against Criminal Interrogation”.  Because my manuscript directly attacked the positions of academic researchers, false confession expert witnesses, and wrongful conviction advocates, I was not surprised to hear that the academics reviewing my work were less than enthralled about what I had to say.  I was shocked however, by the hyperventilating manner in which the academic disagreement was delivered.  Their written reviews included statements that my positions were akin to denying climate change or claiming the earth was flat.  I called out the apoplectic academic response to my manuscript and went on the offensive by pointing out the flaws in their logic and the inconsistencies in their arguments.  My original publisher agreed with my response to the criticism and sent my manuscript out for an additional round of academic review.  A second round of academic flailing proved too much for this tentative publisher, and I was informed that my manuscript would no longer be considered for publication.  This led me to the brave and unwavering staff at Defiance Press.  Ultimately, when it comes to literary criticism, make the necessary adjustments that will advance your writing abilities, but defend yourself when the criticism attacks your credibility.

What was the inspiration for the story?

Approximately 12 years ago, I was asked to conduct a polygraph examination on a subject whose 2-month-old daughter had died after suffocating on a condom while under his care.  The subject failed the polygraph examination and advised that he did not recall killing his daughter, but if he did so, it would have been because he was possessed by evil spirits at the time.  Though not a confession, this was certainly a damning statement.  The subject decided to take the matter to trial and the defense attorney requested the assistance of a renowned false confession expert witness and academic researcher.  This expert was prepared to testify that: a) the subject had certain risk factors that made him more likely to falsely confess to killing his daughter; and b) the lead investigator and I had engaged in interrogative techniques that have been proven to lead to false confessions.  Although this expert witness was not permitted to testify due to the questionable nature of his research, I was asked by the federal prosecutor if I had any familiarity with false confessions.  I had to admit at that time that I did not know much about the false confession phenomenon.  This led me to scour through the academic research, to conduct my own doctoral-level research, and to examine the positions of academia.  I wrote my current book so that no law enforcement officer or prosecutor would ever have to claim that they are not familiar with the false confession phenomenon.  Moreover, I wrote this book to demonstrate to anyone interested in this topic that the positions of many false confession expert witnesses and researchers are fueled by a strong anti-law enforcement bias and inherently flawed research designs.

What is the key theme and/or message in the book?

My key message and takeaway from this book is that while people sometimes falsely confess to crimes they did not commit, this is not a frequently occurring phenomenon.  When false confessions do occur, they tend to be elicited from criminal subjects who are adolescents, mentally ill, severely cognitively impaired, and/or have been physically abused by police officers.  The belief that false confessions occur with any frequency when routine interrogative techniques are applied to adults who are not mentally ill or cognitively impaired is simply false.  Lastly, a key theme of this book is that while the enormous caseloads of law enforcement officers and prosecutors may prevent them from thoroughly analyzing and digesting the academic false confession literature, they should not be afraid of expert witnesses who repeatedly claim that the existing research proves that routine interrogative practices are problematic.  Many of the academic researchers are biased, the majority of their research designs are flawed and unrealistic, and their conclusions are not generally applicable to the real world of criminal justice and criminal interrogation.  As such, prosecutors must become more adept at questioning these so-called experts and their research methods so that the reputations of ethical law enforcement interrogators can be protected and the routine interrogative practices they employ may continue to be utilized.  The safety of our communities and the integrity of our criminal justice system depends on it.   

Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?

I am currently working on a project that is a marked departure from my most recent book.  In a country that is plagued with incessant negative stories put out by local and national media outlets, all seemingly edited to divide us as people, I decided to write a heartwarming story.  This work is an autobiographical account of my military service in Turkey after the first Gulf War and the discovery of a small kitten who had taken up residence in my hat as I sat at the chow hall with my fellow soldiers.  This led to a relationship that lasted many years and traversed duty stations, multiple countries, and many life changes.  I am hoping that readers will learn the lesson that I learned after finding this helpless creature… love, empathy, and resilience can come at the most unexpected times and in the most surprising locations.  

Where do you draw inspiration from?

In writing, I draw inspiration from a strong desire for something different.  With my current book, I was inspired to provide much-needed balance in the discussion around the false confession phenomenon.  For too long, academics, many of whom maintain a palpable anti-law enforcement bias, have controlled the false confession narrative.  Not surprisingly, their conclusions have led to the creation of a cottage industry in which these same academics take the witness stand and claim that the ethical behaviors and interrogative techniques of law enforcement officers have likely caused a false confession.  As I continue in my writing career, I remain inspired by a desire for something different.  In recent decades, Hollywood has largely taken a lazy approach in the creation of new content.  With reboot after reboot, their “new” content is simply the warmed-over serving of yesterday’s entertainment leftovers.  I hope to join the ranks of those new authors who strive to return to the era of original storytelling.  I long for something different        

Who is your favorite author and why?

As a retired federal law enforcement officer and a current polygraph examiner, I have sadly grown accustomed to hearing about the worst possible offenses that one human being can do to another.  As such, I often look to works of fiction to escape these sad realities.  One author I frequently turn to is Stephen King.  In my opinion, his ability to develop characters to the point that the reader can actually come to feel their highs and lows is unrivaled.  Another go-to author for me is Jeffery Deaver.  I was mesmerized by his book, “A Maiden’s Grave” and I have been enjoying his plot twists ever since.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Growing up, my most enjoyable days were when the dozens of kids in the neighborhood rallied together to engage in hours-long battles of simulated warfare as one team sought to outlast the other.  This, combined with my strong sense of patriotism, led to a desire to join the U.S. military.  After joining the U.S. Army Infantry, I quickly came to two key revelations: 1) I no longer wished to lie in the woods and get rained on; and 2) I still desired to serve my country.  This eventually led to a 27-year career in the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  So, while I was not exactly sure of what I wanted to be as a child, in my early teenage years, I was keenly aware that my ultimate profession would involve service to our great nation.

What’s your favorite spot to visit and what makes it so special to you?

I am so very fortunate to have found the one spot that I consider to be heaven on earth.  My favorite spot in the United States is the Ten Thousand Islands area of Florida.  This location is a tangled and twisting maze of mangrove trees, sandy islands, and rocky shoals permeated by the waters of the Gulf of Mexico in southwest Florida.  Here, saltwater anglers, campers, and nautical day trippers can surround themselves with the very face of God as sky casually melds with sea in what some consider to be one of America’s last remaining wild frontiers.  One cannot help but to feel reinvigorated while listening to the unmistakable melody brought about by the splash of a Redfish, the screech of an Osprey, and the spray of a breeching dolphin, all while the steady warm Florida breeze blows across the line of your fishing pole in a high-pitched hum.  As I listen to this music of nature, I am always reminded of Genesis 1:20 – And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.”  Paradise found.

Excerpt from Rethinking the False Confession Phenomenon: A Law Enforcement Perspective

Rethinking the False Confession Phenomenon Bradford Beyer
Rethinking the False Confession Phenomenon Bradford Beyer

Unfortunately, the interrogation profession has been maligned repeatedly and consistently over the last few decades.  Moreover, in light of the profound anti-law enforcement bias on display in the United States at the time that this book is being written, it is of no great surprise that the incessant attack on law enforcement has also made its way to our nation’s interrogation rooms.  This attack on law enforcement interrogators and the manner in which they question criminal subjects has been strengthened by the work of academics, defense attorneys, the media, and advocacy groups like the Innocence Project.  All of these entities have focused their sights on the invaluable law enforcement technique of criminal interrogation, and their preferred weapon of choice is the phenomenon of the false confession.  The ubiquity of this unidirectional war can be readily identified with a simple browsing of your Netflix account.  Programs like “Making a Murderer”, “The Confession Tapes”, “The Innocent Man”, “When They See Us”, “The Innocence Files”, and “Amanda Knox” help to add credence to the belief that people are not only wrongfully convicted on a routine basis, but far too often their convictions stem from their own false confessions.

Through these media productions, as well as through the work of advocacy groups and academic researchers, it has become gospel that people routinely confess to crimes they did not actually commit.  Statistics have been carelessly thrown around to support this conclusion and academic research projects have been conducted that purportedly prove the ease in which this phenomenon occurs.  Even a cursory review of the academic literature will quickly reveal the underlying premise that it is the law enforcement interrogator and their twisted and manipulative “tactics” that push innocents into falsely accepting responsibility for criminal wrongdoing.  Unfortunately, law enforcement officers have either been unwilling or incapable of fighting back against the inherent bias evidenced by defense attorneys, wrongful conviction advocacy groups, and many academics.  As a result, academic researchers have largely controlled the dialogue surrounding the false confession phenomenon.  The outcome of this one-sided discussion has been the rise of the false confession expert witness who is consistently called upon, and handsomely paid, to question the methodologies of law enforcement interrogators and the confessions they elicit.  For those prosecutors and law enforcement officers who have not yet experienced the arguments and conclusions of the false confession expert witness, just wait.  Your time is coming. 

To date, the vast majority of research has been conducted within the academic setting by individuals who have never been tasked with interviewing or interrogating a criminal subject.  Yet these are the same individuals referred to by our legal system as “expert witnesses”.  Moreover, law enforcement officers who have spent a lifetime interviewing and interrogating criminal subjects to the betterment of our communities, have been maligned as torturers, con artists, and single-minded automatons who value confessions over truth and will do anything to accomplish that goal.  As such, this book has been written to bring a much-needed balance to the existing false confession research.  This text will therefore explore the false assumptions made about false confessions, the flawed beliefs about how successful law enforcement officers interrogate, the inherently unsound laboratory experiments designed to study the false confession phenomenon, the distorted conclusions arriving from such research, and the inherent bias driving an organized attack on the very law enforcement technique that has helped to successfully resolve so many cases and ensure that justice is ultimately served.  While some may disagree with what is presented in this book, it is long overdue that an open and honest discussion be held with the true experts in this field.    

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