False and Coerced Confessions; Making a Murderer

6:13 AM College Lawyer Blog 0 Comments

False and Coerced Confessions

FRIDAY, 2/12/16


Since the five-star crime documentary series (based on a true story) was released by Netflix in December 2015, "Making a Murderer" has sparked much discussion and controversy. The series centers around Steven Avery, a man who was once exonerated and later again convicted of yet another crime he claims he did not commit. In Avery's trial, a key piece of evidence presented was a confession given to police made by Avery's nephew, Brendan Dassey. In his confession, which Dassey later recanted, he told police that he and Avery raped and murdered Teresa Halbach together and subsequently disposed of her body. As a result of Dassey's confession, he was convicted at the age of 16.

For those who have watched the documentary series, one of the biggest speculations is whether or not Brendan Dassey's confession was false and whether or not it was coerced. According to the Innocence Project, 25 percent of people who have been exonerated of a crime through DNA evidence were convicted as the result of a false confession or self-incriminating statement. Additionally, in forensic psychologist Julia Shaw's research, 70 percent of those who participated ended up confessing to various criminal offenses they had never committed. 

Why would a person confess to something they didn't do? There are many reasons, actually. An individual may be trying to cover for someone else or gain personal notoriety. They may be trying to escape police questioning. Perhaps a person who falsely confesses is subjected to harsh interrogation tactics by police. In the case of Brendan Dassey, his attorneys argued that Dassey confessed due to a combination of his low IQ and a desire to be compliant with police. 

It may have helped Brendan to know and understand his rights in regard to police questioning. But what are those rights exactly?
A person who is detained by police has the right to immediately request an attorney and does not have to answer any questions until the attorney is present. This is the single best way to be protected in a police questioning situation, especially if a person feels they may be considered a suspect. If Brendan Dassey had invoked his right to have an attorney present during police interrogation, he might not be incarcerated at this very moment.

Samantha Heuring
Levitt Law Firm, Law Clerk

Tyler Webb
Levitt Law Firm, Senior Law Clerk


Lewis, Tanya. "Here's How False Confessions - like the One Brendan Dassey Allegedly Gave on 'Making a Murder' - Happen." Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 05 Feb. 2016. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.
"Making a Murderer." Netflix. Netflix, 18 Dec. 2015. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.
"False Confessions or Admissions." The Innocence Project. The Innocence Project, n.d. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.
Shaw, Julia. "Why It's Easy to Make an Innocent Person Confess." Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 19 Jan. 2016. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.

"Your Rights If Questioned, Stopped or Arrested by the Police." OSBA. Ohio State Bar Association, 23 Feb. 2015. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.
Photo obtained from dreamtime.com; College Lawyer Blog does not own this photo. 


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