The Law Offices of John Phebus

Legal implications in false confession cases

Arizona residents might be familiar with the Netflix documentary entitled "Making a Murderer". The series addresses the false confession of an individual who was 16 years old at the time a female photographer was murdered in 2005. A similar false confession case occurred in 2009, involving a man who allegedly raped and strangled a female neighbor in 1993. Both cases bear similarities to each other, especially the fact that an interrogation method known as the Reid Technique was used with the defendants.

The method involves persistent questioning, minimizing the serious nature of the actual act in question. Interrogation periods can be extensive and wearing for a defendant, and out of helplessness, they might feel that confession is the best approach to dealing with the situation. Because investigators may feed facts of the case to an individual, there could be some elements of the situation in a confession. However, authorities are typically admonished not to use this technique unless they are certain of a defendant's guilt.

In both of these actual cases, the parties who were interrogated lacked any specific knowledge of the incidents that would imply guilt. Additionally, the men questioned in both instances had IQs in the 70s, which suggests that they did not truly understand the gravity of their confessions or the serious nature of the situations in which they were placed. In the case of the individual featured in the Netflix documentary, a conviction was obtained. The other individual was found not guilty. In his case, a false confession expert testified on his behalf, which did not occur in the other case.

It is unfortunate that many criminal convictions are obtained as the result of a false confession. Criminal defense attorneys will often advise their clients not to volunteer any information to authorities unless counsel is present.

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