False Confession

Disappointing News in the Making-a-Murderer saga. (SPOILER ALERTS, but do yourself a favor and binge watch this Netflix docu-series)

In a heavily divided opinion, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the conviction and thereby approved the abusive interrogation tactics employed against this disabled teen.

A federal appeals court in Chicago narrowly overturned a ruling Friday that could have freed a Wisconsin inmate featured in the “Making a Murderer” series from prison, though one dissenting judge called the case “a profound miscarriage of justice.”

The full 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed Brendan Dassey’s claims that investigators tricked him into confessing that he took part in raping and killing photographer Teresa Halbach in 2005. Dassey was sentenced to life in prison in 2007 after telling detectives he helped his uncle, Steven Avery, rape and kill Halbach.

The 4-to-3 opinion conceded a ruling wasn’t obvious or easy, but said it came down to whether findings by Wisconsin state courts that Dassey wasn’t coerced into confessing were reasonable.

I’ll be honest; I binge watched this series. If I was a law school professor, I would use the series as the basis for an entire class on criminal defense. I nearly threw my laptop across the room watching the episode wherein the statements are obtained. The police behavior was bad; his defense lawyer was atrocious. Without his “coerced” confessions obtained by investigators (and his lawyer!), there would be no evidence to implicate Brandon.

Here is the statement of his attorneys, Laura Nirider and Steven Drizin:

We are profoundly disappointed by the decision of four judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to reverse two prior decisions and deny relief to Brendan Dassey. Like many around the globe, we share the view of the three judges who wrote, in dissent, that today’s ruling represents a “profound miscarriage of justice.” We intend to continue pursuing relief for Brendan, including through a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.

Today’s ruling contravenes a fundamental and time-honored position of the United States Supreme Court: interrogation tactics that may not be coercive when applied to adults are coercive when applied to children and the mentally impaired. Indeed, when such tactics are applied to vulnerable populations, the risk of false confession grows intolerably. Unfortunately, this time-worn lesson was ignored today by four judges in the case of Brendan Dassey. We at the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth are committed to continuing to fight on behalf of Brendan and others like him to prevent future miscarriages of justice.

The Northeast Innocent Project tweeted:

Another travesty of justice: The 7th Circuit rules against Brendan Dassey. False confessions are a leading cause of wrongful conviction and courts who fail to act in cases like this are failing innocent men and women everywhere.

Dassey’s statement was completely contradicted by any forensics:

 

This matter highlights the danger of exposing juveniles to law enforcement. As I have posted, DO NOT TALK TO POLICE, its is especially true for your children. DO NOT LET YOUR CHILD OR TEEN TALK OR BE QUESTIONED BY POLICE.

In Alabama, Section of 12-15-202 of the Alabama Code enumerates the rights of children in this setting: (a) When a child is taken into custody, the person taking the child into custody shall inform the child of all of the following, in language understandable to the child: (1) The reason that the child is being taken into custody, (2) That the child has the right to communicate with his or her parent, legal guardian, or legal custodian whether or not that person is present. If necessary, reasonable means will be provided for the child to do so, (3) The child has the right to communicate with an attorney. If the child does not have an attorney, one will be appointed for him or her. If the child has an attorney who is not present, reasonable means shall be provided for the child to communicate with the attorney. Before the child is questioned about anything concerning the charge on which the child was taken into custody, the person asking the questions shall inform the child of the rights a second time.

The Alabama Supreme Court held in Ex parte Whisenant, 466 So.2d 1006 (Ala. 1985): “If any one or more of the 12-15-202 warnings are omitted, the
use in evidence of any statement given by the child is constitutionally proscribed.” These rights are sometimes referred to as “Super-Miranda rights.”

In 18 years of practice, I can count on one hand the number of parents who wisely did not let their child speak or be interviewed by law enforcement. However, this past month, one mother refused law enforcement an interview with her teen son; the charges were ultimately dismissed.

(IMPORTANT NOTE: THERE IS NO PARENT-CHILD PRIVILEGE. Anything a child tells a parent can and will be used against them. Therefore a parent could be compelled by court to testify about any statements made by their child to them. Therefore if you get the call, do not talk about the details of the case. Tell your child to remain silent and DEMAND A LAWYER.)

 

 

 

“In hindsight, it might have been poor science. But it was the science of the day.”

Scary, long-read about “poor” science of arson forensic science: Playing with Fire: How Junk Science Sent Claude Garrett to Prison for Life.

The convictions of Babick, Hugney, Lee and Rosario all relied, at least in part, on the same kinds of burn patterns identified by Special Agent Cooper as telltale signs of arson in 1993. The fire investigative community has since acknowledged such flaws in its old methodology and, although it was slow to do so, has revised its literature and practices. Yet within the criminal justice system, even as the same junk science reappears over and over again in wrongful convictions, there has been no systemic reinvestigation of old arson cases.

TV crime dramas have unfortunately caused too much credence be given generally to forensic experts:

Recent experiments have yielded troubling results. In one 2005 test, ATF researchers asked 53 professional fire investigators to pinpoint the origin of a series of post-flashover fires. Only three were able to do so accurately — most drew false conclusions based on burn patterns. In 2011, a test conducted by  the California-based Arson Research Project asked professional fire investigators to assess 12 post-flashover burn patterns and distinguish between those that involved a liquid accelerant and those that did not. In reality, there is no way to tell the difference based on visual evidence alone. Yet out of 33 investigators, only three responded that such a conclusion could not be determined based on this evidence.

I once had an expert, on the witness stand, state that she had never made a mistake nor had she called her colleagues conclusions into doubt. State forensic scientists, although an independent agency from “law enforcement,” fall into a pro-prosecution bias.

In a subsequent report, the Arson Research Project warned that between their subjective methodology and close identification with law enforcement, fire investigators are “uniquely positioned” to be susceptible to the affects of cognitive bias — in which one’s perception is colored by preexisting knowledge or assumptions.

Scariest thought.

“In hindsight,” Fulton said, this “might have been poor science. But it was the science of the day.”

What forensic “most sophisticated science of today” will be viewed as poor science in 20 to 30 years? How many convictions will be obtained and prison sentences imposed with such “poor science.”

False Confession: Corrupting the Investigation

As reported by the New York Times:

False criminal confessions set in motion other errors by police, informants and witnesses, suggests a review of 240 overturned convictions.

In experiments, confessions have been shown to shape the interpretation of other evidence by polygraph examiners, fingerprint experts and witnesses, but real-world proof of the phenomenon has been hard to come by. To remedy that, researchers looked at cases overturned with the help of the non-profit group the Innocence Project, on the basis of DNA evidence, from 1992 through July 2009.

Fifty-nine of the cases involved false confessions — mostly by the suspect, sometimes by a supposed accomplice. The confession cases were significantly more likely than the others to have also involved other mistakes, such as incorrect findings by forensic labs (63% vs. 48%), or an informant whose tale did not reflect the truth (19% vs. 11%).

The researchers verified that most confessions happened very early in investigations, making it plausible that they clouded what happened later. Errant eyewitnesses were actually the most common glitch in the cases studied, appearing in three-quarters. But cases that involved eyewitness errors (and not confessions) were less likely to have multiple errors than cases that involved confessions (and not witness errors); in other words, eyewitness errors weren’t as contaminating as false confessions.

IL Court Reverses Conviction of Man Jailed for 19 Years in Rape and Murder

According to the reports, a man convicted of Rape and Murder has had his convictions set aside for lack of evidence.

In an opinion that harshly criticizes the tactics of the police and prosecutors, an Illinois appellate court on Friday night reversed the conviction of Juan Rivera, who has spent 19 years in jail for the 1992 rape and murder of an 11-year-old baby sitter in a suburb of Chicago.

Mr. Rivera, who is 39 and serving a life sentence, has been convicted three times for killing the sitter, Holly Staker, based on the strength of a confession that was obtained after four days of questioning. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, which occurred in Waukegan, Ill., and DNA testing in 2005 excluded him as the source of sperm found in Holly’s body. . .

In its opinion, the appellate court on Friday said the confession was highly suspect and was not enough for a “rational trier of fact” to conclude that Mr. Rivera was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. For instance, while prosecutors insisted that Mr. Rivera’s confession contained details only the killer would know, the court said that detectives had fed some details to him by asking leading questions and that some other facts had been made public in newspaper articles.