Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Anything you say (or don't say) can be used against you

We all know that people confess to the police because they think they're helping themselves.  Sometimes these confessions are true and sometimes they're false, but in both cases people confess because they are (wrongly) convinced that doing so is in their best interest.  For example, the police often minimize the event by saying, "If you admit your involvement now, everything will be okay and it's not a big deal; but if you keep lying to us by denying it, then you'll really be in trouble."  Or, sometimes the police present the classic false dichotomy: "You have only two choices: (1) You did this, you meant to do it, you're a monster, and you're going to prison for the rest of your life; or (2) You didn't mean to do this, so-and-so is really the one who did it, you're involvement was minimal, and if you help us out we'll take care of you and you'll be just fine."

In both cases, of course, the police are lying, and the suspect is about to be nailed to the wall.  In Making a Murderer, this was obviously what happened to Brendan Dassey.  But there's another danger to talking to the police that wasn't discussed in the documentary.  It happened in Steven Avery's first case where he was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for 18 years for the rape and attempted murder of Penny Beerntsen.  In that case, Avery adamantly denied being involved.  So the police simply twisted his words and turned an innocent man's denial into evidence of guilt.  This tactic is incredibly common in Wisconsin, and you can read about it in my newest Wisconsin Law Journal column which reprints part of my new book, Convicting Avery: The Bizarre Laws and Broken System behind Making a Murderer (Prometheus Books).   

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