The Netflix hit “Making a Murderer” is making headlines again with the recent decision to release Brandon Dassey from prison. Fans of Making a Murderer remember Dassey as main character Steven Avery’s nephew, who confessed to assisting Avery in the rape/murder of photographer Theresa Halbach. Throughout the Netflix show, Dassey was portrayed as a young teen with limited intellect and a below average IQ.
Now, after 10 years in prison, it looks like Dassey may be getting a taste of freedom. U.S. District Judge, William E. Duffin has overturned Dassey’s conviction on the basis of which Dassey’s confession was obtained. Those who watched “Making a Murderer” would probably agree that the Dassey’s interrogation was seemingly coercive. In order for a confession to stand under the 14th Amendment, it must have been made voluntarily.
Footage from the mini-documentary series shows investigators pressuring Dassey to confess, using tactics such as making false promises and telling Dassey that they “already know what happened” and to just tell the truth. At the time of these interrogations, Dassey was only sixteen years old and did not have a lawyer present. According to court records, Dassey has an IQ of 70, which is considered threshold for intellectual disability. Additionally, Dassey responded to many of the detective’s questions with short phrases and yes/no responses.
False confessions leading to wrongful convictions have been a prominent issue over the past thirty years. It was determined that around 31 percent of wrongful conviction cases included a false confession. For homicide cases, this number reaches 63 percent.
Judge Duffin called Dassey’s confession “so clearly involuntary in a constitutional sense that the court of appeals’ decision to the contrary was an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law.” Investigators must take into account all circumstances at the time of an interrogation, which in this case should have included Dassey’s age and mental capacity.
While we may never know if Dassey and Avery did conspire to murder Theresa Halbach, credit must be given to “Making a Murderer” and documentaries alike that have worked to shine a light on the problems the justice system faces. Wrongful convictions based on false confessions derived from coercive interrogations is something that needs to be closely monitored in order to prevent the growing number of wrongfully convicted persons. No news on how the State of Wisconsin will move forward in this matter, but what is clear is the need to enforce stricter rules for interrogations of mentally handicapped young adults.