Questionable fitness for interview

Forensic physicians are sometimes involved in expert court work in order to establish whether a detainee may have been at risk in a police interview i.e if anything they say about their involvement or suspected involvement in an offence about which they are being interviewed might be considered unreliable in subsequent court proceedings as a direct result of their physical or mental state. If this is found to be the case, then the interview is deemed inadmissible.

The police can sometimes overlook a detainee’s psychological / physical or educational learning vulnerabilities and interview a suspect who may have naively declined all legal advice and representation. In such cases, it is possible that the suspect does not have sufficient insight into the gravity of the allegation and associated legal implications. It is equally possible that this group of vulnerable individuals are at risk of making false confessions during interview particularly if they have a compliant personality and the associated desire to seek approval from and be liked by others. Detainees in this category can have considerable difficulties contradicting police assertions when subjected to interrogative pressure in an interview setting.

Another group of vulnerable individuals commonly in police custody are drug and / or alcohol misusers. These individulals are at greater risk of having memory impairment in relation to recent events possibly the subject of police interview. This group is therefore at risk of mistrusting their own memory or have frank memory impairment to the degree that they are very suggestible and can be gradually convinced or persuaded into making a false confession.

Individuals that are drug or alcohol dependent are also at greater risk of making false confessions fuelled by the fear of suffering withdrawal symptoms in custody. The suspect may give in to the demands and pressure of interviewers due to the false perception that false confession might facilitate immediate gain in the way of release from custody. This group presents a complex challenge to forensic physicians since there exists a questionable window of optimal ‘fitness for interview’ somewhere between an individual’s initial drug or alcohol intoxicated state upon arrest, and the subsequent state of progressively worsening withdrawal.