Criminogenic Risks of Interrogation.

Richard H McAdams, Margareth Etienne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the United States, moral minimization is a pervasive police interrogation tactic in which the detective minimizes the moral seriousness and harm of the offense, suggesting that anyone would have done the same thing under the circumstances, and casting blame away from the offender and onto the victim or society. The goal of these minimizations is to reinforce the guilty suspect's own rationalizations or "neutralizations" of the crime. The official theory--posited in the police training manuals that recommend the tactic--is that minimizations encourage confessions by lowering the guilt or shame of associated with confessing to the crime. Yet the same logic suggests that minimization would also lower the internal, psychological costs of committing future crimes. We therefore argue that the tactic carries criminogenic risks. We draw strong support from numerous criminal law and social science theories -- neutralization, moral disengagement, marginal offender, restorative justice, entrapment, social norms and legal legitimacy--and find each theory or doctrine consistent with our conclusion that minimization disinhibits criminality. In weighing the criminogenic risks of minimization against its unproven promise of securing confessions, we find minimization practices unjustifiable. We raise and respond to counterarguments and conclude that the use of moral minimization in interrogation should cease given the existence of alternative interrogation approaches and absent empirical evidence of its effectiveness. In the alternative, we suggest some avenues to curtail the practice.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1031-1087
Number of pages57
JournalIndiana Law Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • SERIOUSNESS (Attitude)
  • POLICE training
  • CRIMINAL law

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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