Interrogators like Mark Wiegert and Tom Fassbender have tactics to get suspects to waive their Miranda rights, and they have a different set of ploys to get suspects to tell them what they want to hear—or, in Brendan Dassey’s case, to get him to agree with whatever they, the interrogators, are saying. (I love it when they get Dassey to agree to something, but then later discover that what they made him agree with doesn’t make any sense after all. The dynamic duo then gets frustrated with the kid, as if he was the one who gave the bad information to them.)
But before the interrogation begins, detectives like to warm their suspects up a bit—you know, feign interest in them and build some rapport before getting too hot and heavy. To see how Wiegert and Fassbender did this, read chapter 10, “Getting to Know All About You,” from my soon-to-be-released book, Anatomy of a False Confession: The Interrogation and Conviction of Brendan Dassey (Rowman & Littlefield). Order today for delivery by Halloween; but until then, enjoy a sneak peek of chapter 10, after the jump. (Reprinted with permission of the publisher; citations to interrogation transcripts omitted for this post.)
Wiegert and Fassbender had put in a lot of thought and effort up to this point. One thing they had worked very hard to do was to convince Dassey they were his friends and were there to help. Among numerous other examples, Fassbender said, “I’m your friend right now, but I . . . gotta believe in you and if I don’t believe in you, I can’t go to bat for you.”
This tactic actually served a dual purpose. It not only eliminated the risk that Dassey would invoke his right to remain silent mid-interrogation, but it also helped jump-start the substantive conversation. If Dassey believed that talking to his new “friend” was to his benefit, because his “friend” would “go to bat” for him, then Dassey would be more likely to, well, talk. And toward this same end, there was one more thing the interrogators wanted to do before unleashing their arsenal of interrogation tactics: build a rapport with Dassey.
Rapport building is simply commonsense; it’s something we do in many different contexts. For example, if a person is interested in dating someone who is, essentially, a stranger, he or she does not simply walk up to that stranger and ask for a date. Rather, he or she will dramatically increase the odds of success by first attempting to build a rapport. “Hello.” “How are you doing today?” “Where do you work?” “That’s a great jacket you’re wearing.” “Oh, you know John Jones? How is he doing?” And the same thing is true of interrogators. They don’t just sit a suspect down and start asking questions. An interrogator knows that the amount and quality of information he will be able to extract from the suspect is positively correlated with the level of rapport he is first able to establish.
More specifically, interrogators “may use pre-Miranda conversation to build rapport, which is important to obtaining a Miranda waiver.” Similarly, interrogators also use rapport building post-Miranda to get the suspect comfortable and talking more freely. That is, rapport building often occurs “after the suspect waived his Miranda rights,” and is therefore “directed at eliciting a subsequent confession, rather than an initial Miranda waiver.”
The more astute among us can see through attempts at rapport building—whether they are coming from a would-be date or a government agent. Even so, many otherwise intelligent defendants have told me how surprised they were upon first learning they had been criminally charged. Their reason: the detective who questioned them “seemed like such a nice guy.” In any case, the quiet and withdrawn Brendan Dassey most certainly was not sophisticated enough to recognize Wiegert and Fassbender’s rapport-building tactics, which started with feigned interest in Dassey’s well-being and emotional state.
Fassbender kicked off one of their interrogations by asking, “So how ya doin’ Brendan since, ah, the last time we talked to you?” Wiegert also chimed in. “All right. How you doin’ buddy?” To really build trust, the interrogators would slip into psychologist mode. “We’re here more ta maybe let you talk . . . about how you’ve been feeling lately and stuff. . . . Go ahead and tell us what’s been bothering ya.” And, as we saw in earlier chapters, playing the father figure doesn’t hurt either: “I’m a father that has a kid your age too. I wanna be here for you.”
Other ways they built rapport was to show an interest in Dassey’s family and friends. For example, Fassbender inquired about his family, “How’s your mom doing?” He also asked about his friends. “Did Travis tell you I talked to him? He seems like a pretty cool kid.” Not to be left out, Wiegert got in the mix. “Where does your girlfriend live? . . . Do you talk to her on the Internet or what?”
When things bog down, the topic of the weather is always on standby. “The sky, it looks like it could snow a little bit today,” Fassbender said. But Wiegert was more concerned about the freezing rain “that’s supposed to come in later. They’re sayin’ it’s supposed to go up to 40 something today.” And it helps if the interrogator can actually get the suspect involved in the small talk as well. Wiegert asked, “So, you like snow? . . . Or would you rather have it warm up?” And sometimes it’s a good idea to share a personal anecdote to make the interrogator seem more relatable or maybe even human. Wiegert disclosed, “I remember being your age, waitin’ for that snow day. That was a, that was a great thing.”
And for rapport building, it’s also okay to ask questions to which you already know the answer. Wiegert attempted to make a connection by asking, “Do you have to ride the bus to school or, that’s, that’s how you get to school right?” Throw in a stray comment about a local high school basketball game—“I wonder how bad Menasha got beat”—and the occasional semi-intelligible question about where Dassey has lunch—“You eats lunch at school normally, er?”—and you’re off to the races. You have warmed up the suspect and built the appropriate level of rapport. It is now show time. Let the interrogation begin.
 Book excerpt from Michael D. Cicchini, Anatomy of a False Confession: The Interrogation and Conviction of Brendan Dassey (Rowman & Littlefield) © 2018 by The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.
 Charles D. Weisselberg, Mourning Miranda, Calif. L. Rev. (2008).
 Anthony Domanico, Michael D. Cicchini, & Lawrence T. White, Overcoming Miranda: A Content Analysis of the Miranda portion of Police Interrogations, Idaho L. Rev. (2012).