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Exasperated Perp

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"Miss Hudson? I hope you understand that this is only the beginning. In a way I feel sorry for you because from now on I'm going to do everything I can to break you down, do you understand? Doctor Fleming made one mistake and you're it. You're the weak link, Miss Hudson. Now you surprised me today because you were strong. But there's always tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, and sooner or later you're gonna talk to me. Until you do you're gonna be questioned, you're gonna be followed, and you're gonna be hounded. And Doctor Fleming can't do anything about it. You're on your own, Miss Hudson, and I'm gonna get to him through you. That's a promise."
Columbo, "Prescription: Murder"

Instead of physically or psychologically torturing a suspect, the protagonist simply irritates the perp into making a crucial mistake.

Can be done while Perp Sweating, or on the stand, as with The Perry Mason Method.


Fan Works
  • Agent Romanoff tries to do this to Loki in Calculator, a Thor fic. Had it not been for the fact that Loki honestly didn't know, it might have worked. She says, over and over, in the exact same tone:
    Natasha: Now, where is the alleged robot?


  • Smoothly done by Captain Carrot on Moist von Lipwig in Making Money
    Moist: Look, I know how this sort of thing goes. You keep me talking in the hope that I'll suddenly forget where I am and say something stupid and incriminating, right?
    Carrot: Thank you for that, sir.
    Moist: Thank me for what?
    Carrot: For telling me you know how this sort of thing goes, sir.
    • Detritus attempts less subtly to apply this to suspects, primarily by asking "Did you do it?" for hours on end. The "correct" answer is something along the lines of "Yes! Yes! I did it! Now please tell me what it is I did!"
      • "Did you do it?" is merely the first of his probing questions. He usually followed it up with the persistent 'Are you sure it wasn't you wot did it?" and then the crafty "It was you wot done it, wasn't it?"
      • On the other hand, Drumknott managed to stump Detritus by simply answering "No", which is apparently not what the suspect is supposed to say.
  • Binder puts on this hat in The Dresden Files. Murphy sees it coming, but she, Harry, and Rawlins play along and convince Binder that he's pulled the wool over them.
  • The Cornell Woolrich novel Phantom Lady includes a sequence in which the girlfriend of the imprisoned protagonist, believing a certain bartender has information that will clear his name, spends several days stalking the bartender. She goes to his place of employment, spends his entire shift nursing one drink and staring at him, follows him home and stands below his window, and generally cultivates an appearance of creepy, unsleeping inescapability — without actually saying or doing much of anything. The barman begins cracking under the strain, and just when the girl is ready to call her Friend on the Force to interrogate him in earnest, he becomes so terrified of her that he dashes into traffic and is killed.

Live-Action TV

  • Columbo was the king of this. Without letting on that he suspects the perp, he'd have long, seemingly innocuous conversations with the murderer who would get more and more frustrated as they tried to get this annoying man to go away, and thus already be off-balance when the topic turned to holes in their cover-up. Columbo's favorite move was seeming to leave once the suspect thought they'd thrown him off the scent, then turning around and adding "Just one more thing," knocking them on their heels.
    • The quote at the top is from the pilot, where he has mixed in the above with more than a bit of bullying after the murderer becomes wise to his Obfuscating Stupidity. He confuses and harasses his accomplice instead, since she's the "weak link" while the killer is a more calculating sociopath.
  • This is also the main M.O of Monk, although Monk usually does this unintentionally. The most extreme example wasn't carried out by Monk at all. In "Mr. Monk and the Actor", the actor preparing to play Monk in a movie gets a little too Method about the part, and due to a misunderstanding believes that the suspect in Monk's current case killed Monk's wife, Trudy. When the police come to apprehend the murderer, they find the actor advancing on the terrified man with a gun and demanding to know why he did it. The real Monk arrives on the scene and tries to calm the actor:
    Monk: Listen, he didn't kill Trudy. He killed a woman named Michelle and a pawnbroker named Orlov—
    Leverett: Yes, that's true — I killed a woman and an old man — I didn't kill Trudy, who the hell is Trudy?
  • Angel does this to his demon perps.
  • In an episode of JAG, Bud irritates a Navy officer into revealing his homicidal views on incompetent members of the armed forces by making a large number of deliberate mistakes whilst cross-examining him.
  • Quite popular in the various CSI franchises when they've got just enough evidence to know who the Bad Guy is but not enough to take him to court.
  • The Doctor sometimes uses this technique on Doctor Who.
    "I made him say comfy chairs."
  • Used all the time in Law & Order to break down a perp without saying a word. Particularly memorable was a suspect that was gladly given cup after cup of coffee/water while waiting for an interrogation...for 4 hours. He repeatedly asked to go to the bathroom, but was told that it was broken and the line for the other one was far too long. When the detectives (who were watching behind the one-way mirror) finally got around to questioning him, he was more than glad to give any information they requested because he had to pee.
    • Lampshaded in one episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. He comes this close to drinking before he realized what's going on.
    • This gets inverted in an episode of Elementary. Sherlock realizes that a suspect is way too calm for someone who has been drinking liquids for hours and has not gone to the bathroom in all that time. The suspect was stabbed by the man he killed earlier in the day and his body required all that water to replenish the blood he lost.
    • Detective Goren from Law & Order: Criminal Intent is rather fond of this technique (seeming to prefer it to gathering actual evidence). Him being an expert in human behavior, he always knows exactly how to anger his suspect into confessing and/or implicating their partner.
  • In contrast to the hardball Perp Sweating techniques used by Gibbs and Ziva in NCIS, Tony favors the "annoy them into submission" method. Even Gibbs admits that it's bizarre but effective. SO effective, in fact, that he managed to annoy the head of Mossad (Israeli covert operations) into admitting that BOTH of the "rogue" Mossad agents that had threatened NCIS personnel were actually following his orders to encounter them. This resulted in Ziva getting very angry. At the time, Tony was the one being interrogated—he was so annoying that he turned the situation around!
  • Parodied in a recurring sketch on The Fast Show, in which police try this on a suspect to no avail, only for a George Smiley-like master interrogator to show up and casually ask the perp the question out of hand and have him reply without thinking.
  • Unintentional example on Just Shoot Me!. Donnie (guest star David Cross) feigns being mentally impaired in order to get out of working in the plant back home, and is waited on hand and foot by his family. While he's hanging out at the magazine's offices, Jack Gallo paternally, wildly inaccurately, and at length "explains" how the pneumatic mail system works. Donnie finally snaps and angrily corrects Jack. [sigh] "Now I have to get a job."
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine
    • In "48 Hours," Jake attempts this by bringing a guitar into the interrogation room, shredding on it, and screaming. The perp is certainly exasperated, but doesn't say a word.
    • In "The Box," Jake and Holt combine this with more traditional interrogation techniques... including using the guitar again! It still doesn't work. Holt also tries to throw the suspect off his cool by telling him that as a dentist he's not a real doctor. The suspect starts to get angry but then turns it back on Holt by claiming that college professors shouldn't be able to call themselves doctors, which sends Holt into a screaming rage. What does work, however, is Jake implying that the only reason the perp was able to cover his tracks is because he's an idiot who just happened to get absurdly lucky. The perp, being a sociopath who wants everyone to know how clever he is, angrily blurts out how he planned and carried out the perfect crime.
  • That Mitchell and Webb Look: Done with a Poirot spoof, who notes he knows he's caught the murderer when they start doing "Ze Evil Voice". Even in a case when he's got no evidence, because after all, only murderers do the Evil Voice.

Western Animation

  • In Archer, Cyril suspects Dr. Krieger to be part of an old Nazi project in Brazil and starts interrogating him in the break room about how he knows Portuguese. Krieger is on the defensive as he tries to explain before Cyril suddenly asks him a question in German:
    Cyril: Warum hast du umzug noch Brasilien?trns. 
    Krieger: Weiter den Kampf der mein Führer! (beat) Schisse.trns.  (quickly leaves)
  • Duckman did this once after Cornfed cleared him of King Chicken's plot to frame him. After calling King Chicken to the stand, Duckman proceeds to "interrogate" him by rambling senselessly until an annoyed King Chicken finally confesses just to shut him up.
  • In one episode of The Simpsons, Sideshow Bob is accused of rigging the election, based on getting so many votes as a convicted felon while the other convicted felon running got so few. After Lionel Hutz' intense interrogation fails, the kids badger Bob with accusations that only a Rush Limbaugh Expy could pull off such an elaborate fraud, until he snaps, says it was him, and pulls out a very detailed account of his scheme. He wrote books on how he pulled off electoral fraud.
  • Unintentional example in the Justice League Action episode "Unleashed". Dex-Starr infiltrates the Watchtower in the guise of an ordinary housecat, until Plastic Man gets on his nerves so much that he blows his cover and puts on his power ring to blast him.

Real Life

  • They offered the perp a cigarette if he wanted one...
  • Note that in real life, this sort of thing and the techniques mentioned on this page may well get someone to 'confess', when really they have nothing to do with the case. As such, the legality (or at least the utility) of exasperating a suspect is very questionable.
  • Apparently one of the more useful tactics during World War II and Cold War to out potential spies or agents was to simply punch them; someone not expecting it may respond in their native language, which would be an immediate giveaway. Of course, this is typically not a first-resort tactic, since a skilled agent could still control their tongue, and it typically doesn't do well to go around punching people who might be an enemy without a damned good reason.