Amanda Knox testifies in Olympia for stricter interrogation laws

In support of a bill that would void interview statements if a court finds deceptive police tactics, Knox described her 53-hour questioning in Italy.

photo illustration of Amanda Knox and the state capitol.

Amanda Knox and the Washington state capitol, where she testified on Jan. 8.

Amanda Knox, a Washingtonian who was wrongly convicted of murder in Italy, shared her firsthand experience with police deception while testifying before a Washington House committee in support of a bill that would target deceptive tactics in police interrogations. 

House Bill 1062, introduced in 2023, would make statements given during interrogations inadmissible if a court finds the officer intentionally used deceptive tactics such as lying about available evidence or making unauthorized statements about leniency. The bill would not apply to situations where a suspect is not in custody, such as sting operations.

In her testimony before the House Community, Safety, Justice and Reentry committee on Jan. 8, Knox described her 53-hour, five-day interrogation in Italy where officers claimed to have evidence incriminating her in the murder of her roommate, Meredith Kercher. Knox, at the time a University of Washington student studying abroad, says police deception led her to make false statements and was the crux of her murder conviction, which was later reversed on appeal.

“This issue is the greatest issue for me when it comes to resolving issues of wrongful convictions,” Knox said in her testimony. “I believe that if I had not been lied to by the police, none of this would have happened.”

The Innocence Project, a nonprofit focused on preventing and rectifying wrongful convictions, highlights false confessions' significant role in this issue. Of the 375 DNA exonerations nationwide, 29% involved a false confession. This isn’t surprising given that jurors believe both true and false confessions around 88% of the time, according to a West Virginia University Study.

Because deceptive techniques during interrogations can push people to make false statements, supporters say this bill is needed to prevent wrongful convictions, increase trust between law enforcement and the public, and promote public safety.

“This is a matter of fairness … too often innocent people are being arrested and convicted, and if somebody is innocent and spending time in jail, the person that is guilty is still in our community,” prime sponsor Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, said during the hearing.

A 1969 U.S. Supreme Court case, Frazier v. Cupp, paved the way for routine use of police deception, as the justices ruled police can lie during interrogations. James Trainum, a former detective with the Washington, D.C., police department who currently consults on wrongful-conviction cases, told Crosscut that virtually every law enforcement agency uses the Reid technique, which utilizes police deception and was developed by John E. Reid in the 1940s.

Trainum said the Reid technique involves tactics such as the false evidence ploy, in which officers coerce confessions by telling suspects they already have proof of their guilt. Officers may also urge suspects to confess by making unauthorized promises of leniency for doing so, such as a lighter sentence. Both tactics are addressed by House Bill 1062.

Trainum himself was trained to use the Reid technique. He says he started to doubt the use of deception by officers during interrogations after he got his own false confession while working as a homicide detective.

Trainum says the problem with the Reid technique is that it works too well, resulting in false confessions, unreliable information, and ultimately wrongful convictions: “[These tactics] are designed to get confirmation of what the detective believes to be true, and not information.”

Trainum calls the false evidence ploy the most problematic of the Reid tactics. Studies have shown officers lie about evidence in about 30% of custodial interrogations, making this tactic extremely common.

“Every single unreliable or false confession case that I’ve ever reviewed has always, always had some sort of false evidence ploy involved in it, every single one,” Trainum said.

Ted Bradford, who was wrongly convicted of a Yakima sexual assault in 1996 when he was 22, illustrates the dangers of the false evidence ploy. Testifying beside Amanda Knox at the Jan. 8 hearing, Bradford told legislators how police lied to him during his nine-and-a-half-hour interrogation, telling him they had DNA evidence that would link him to the crime and that he might as well confess.

“It was just a full day ... of constant badgering, accusations, it was just a horrible experience to go through,” Bradford said in his testimony.

Bradford said he knew he was innocent, but felt that confessing was the only way out of the interrogation. Thinking that the DNA evidence police claimed to have would rule him out as a suspect, Bradford confessed that he “probably” committed the crime. When the DNA samples turned out to be inconclusive, police and prosecutors still used Bradford’s statement. He was convicted of first-degree rape and first-degree kidnapping and sentenced to 10 years in prison, which he served in their entirety.

Following Bradford's release to community custody in 2006, DNA evidence submitted by the Washington Innocence Project was analyzed using advanced techniques not available at the time of Bradford’s trial. The results proved Bradford’s innocence, and he became Washington’s first DNA exoneration in 2010.

“I think my case and my experience illustrates perfectly why this bill is needed,” Bradford said in his testimony.

Opponents of the bill, including James McMahan, policy director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, argue that police deception serves a necessary function.

“Sometimes we have to lie to people to get them to tell the truth,” McMahan said in a public hearing. “That’s just an unfortunate reality of law enforcement.”

Some experts say police deception has become obsolete due to the advent of new interrogation methods. According to Trainum, the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, created by President Barack Obama in 2009, has developed methods that result in more reliable confessions and fewer false confessions without police deception.

McMahan’s comment was surprising to both Rep. Peterson and co-sponsor Rep. Tarra Simmons, who both say trust is necessary to strengthen relationships between law enforcement and communities and to promote police accountability.

“It was really hard to hear him say that and to admit it like that,” said Rep. Simmons, the first formerly incarcerated Washington state legislator. “If we can’t trust our government to behave appropriately, then I don’t feel like we’re living up to the ideals of our country.”

WA Bill Tracker 2024

Opponents of HB 1062 also argue that the proposal isn’t necessary. McMahan said case law, judges’ decisions that set examples for future similar cases, already addresses this issue.

Trainum says case law can’t fully address this issue. Although precedent is legally binding, judges can disregard it if they feel it does not apply to the case being decided, known as distinguishing a case. Often case law refers to extremely outrageous cases, according to Trainum, making it easier for judges to distinguish their case from precedent, and ignore it.

“The reason that this law is being proposed is because case law and the application of it is not being effective,” Trainum said. “You only put regulations in place if there’s a problem.”

Laws in other states, such as Illinois, Oregon, Utah and California, prohibit police deception. However, these states restrict its application only to juveniles, a population considered extremely vulnerable to its use. But experts say everyone is susceptible to police deception under the right conditions.

“The propensity to falsely confess is simply human, and it happens everywhere,” Lara Zarowsky, executive director of the Washington Innocence Project, said during the public hearing.

If passed, this bill would likely make Washington the first state to ban police deception on adults, building on past police reform legislation and paving the way for other states to follow suit.

House Bill 1062 is scheduled for a committee vote on Jan. 18.

“This is a national issue, but Washington has the opportunity right now to be a leader on it,” Rep. Simmons said.

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About the Authors & Contributors


Scarlet Hansen

Scarlet Hansen is a student journalist at the University of Washington and Crosscut's 2024 legislative intern.