Steve Drizin, Staff Attorney at the Center on Wrongful Convictions, spoke at the Ohio State University chapter of the Ohio Innocence Project about the techniques often used by law enforcement officials to extract false confessions from suspects.
Drizin is representing Brendan Dassey, who was convicted in 2007 along with his uncle Steven Avery for the rape and murder of photographer Teresa Halbach, a case that was the subject of the of Netflix’s popular documentary series Making a Murderer.
Drizin used video footage from Dassey’s interrogation to illustrate the ways in which police obtained what he maintains was a false confession. Both Dassey and Avery say they are innocent of Halbach’s rape and murder.
According to Drizin, police used what he calls “misclassification;” interpreting body language and responses to mean the suspect is guilty and becoming more aggressive with their questioning.
Drizin said police also used “coercion,” claiming to know the truth about how the crime transpired and making promises to the suspect. Dassey’s lawyers say police promised Dassey that if he confessed he could go home.
Finally, Drizin said, police used “contamination,” feeding Dassey information about the crime that he wouldn’t have known unless he was involved. This alone should disqualify Dassey’s confession as evidence against him, Drizin said.
Drizin stressed that, under these circumstances, anyone could produce a false confession, regardless of age, education or mental health.
“I’m here to tell you it doesn’t matter if you’re highly intelligent or if you’re of low intelligence, everybody has their breaking point and you or I can be made to falsely confess under the right circumstances,” Drizin said, according to the Lantern. “The reality is that when you look at the whole numbers of false confessions, about a third of them involve young people, about a third of them involve people with mental disabilities or mental illness, and a third of them are just like you and me.”
Read the Lantern coverage here.
False confessions are among the leading causes of wrongful convictions. To learn more about the contributing causes of wrongful convictions, click here.