In the controversial Netflix series Making a Murderer, viewers saw a glimpse of the disturbing interrogation of Brendan Dassey; a vulnerable, intellectually disabled child who “confessed” to his role in the brutal rape, murder, and dismemberment of a 25 year old woman. No matter your opinion on Brendan’s guilt or innocence, it’s hard to deny that it’s the detectives, not Brendan, who were responsible for providing the gruesome “details” of the crime. As a defense attorney it was infuriating to watch the investigators manipulate a helpless boy who was willing to say anything just to go home.
Juveniles Are Easily Coerced by Police
Even though Brendan’s statements contradicted much of the physical evidence and the investigator’s own timeline of events, the damage was done. Once Brendan waived one of the most important legal safeguards for children – the right to have a lawyer and/or parent present during his interrogation, Brendan unknowingly talked himself into a trap far beyond anything his simple-mind could have ever imagined. Every unassuming statement Brendan “gave” to police created a new, gaping crack in his sinking ship of freedom. Tricked into believing that this would all go away, Brendan’s fate was sealed as soon as he stepped foot inside the interrogation room.
It’s impossible to know what Brendan’s life would look like today if a competent lawyer, or at least his mother, had been with him in the interrogation room. Regardless, parents must realize that what happened to Brendan was not unique. All too often the truth is lost in the pursuit of justice where getting a conviction is more important than getting it right.
As a result of Mr. Dassey’s stomach-turning case and the alarming frequency of juvenile false confessions some lawmakers are re-evaluating policies regarding juvenile interrogations. Tennessee state Rep. Mike Sparks, (R-Smyrna) proposed new legislation requiring all minors be advised of their rights before being questioned, that a parent or guardian must be present for any interview with police, and most notably, that the interview be recorded on video. Currently, only 20 states and the District of Columbia require electronic recordings of juvenile interrogations.
Although proposals have been made in support of mandatory electronic recording of all custodial interrogations, no such requirement exists in Colorado. So what can you do to keep your child safe? The answer is simple: 1) NEVER waive, or give-up, your child’s right to consult an attorney; 2) NEVER allow your child to talk to police without an experienced attorney in the room, even if your child is innocent; and 3) NEVER urge or pressure your child to come clean without first speaking to an attorney.