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Constitutional Rights During Interrogation

Brendan Dassey has been in prison for the last decade, after being charged with assisting his uncle in raping and murdering a 25 year old photographer who had come to their family property in order to photograph some vehicles at the family’s junkyard in order to sell them. The young woman, Teresa Halbach, was presumably found when police discovered human remains with DNA matching hers as well as blood stains throughout her vehicle that was still on the property when she was reported missing. Dassey and his uncle were the subject of a popular Netflix documentary series, titled Making a Murderer, which brought their case into the spotlight.

Dassey, at the time only 16 years old, underwent a three hour interrogation by a number of investigators who violated the law in their line of questioning, while also failing to provide him with his constitutional safeguards. After several hours of questioning, Dassey, eventually implicated himself in the crime, due to the undue influence of police officials convincing him of certain truths. The investigators repeatedly told the young man that they were looking out for his best interests and also to consider what his mother would think, as well as telling him that his mother said he should talk to the police and tell them what happened, all factors influencing his decision making.

A Wisconsin judge ruled in mid-November that the confession was involuntary and overturned the original conviction. Dassey at the time of the interrogation failed to understand and appreciate the severity of the situation, and was not explained what his legal options were throughout the interrogation. It was known that Dassey did not possess the normal intellectual development for another teenager his same age and thus was not able to properly comprehend the officers’ line of questioning as well as the repercussions of confessing to something he did not do in order to get out of the situation.

False Confessions

Minors have the same rights as adults do, along with many others when it comes to interrogation by a legal authority. People confess to crimes they did not commit for a number of reasons, including, duress, coercion, mental impairment, fear of harm or due to threats of harm to the person or their family, lack of understanding of the law and their legal rights. Additionally, those under the age of 18 years old do not always possess the ability to understand a situation and fully appreciate it, making them more susceptible to undue influence by a police officer in hopes of pleasing the officer.

Both children and mentally handicapped individuals are taught from a young age that they must obey the law, thus when isolated alone with a police officer, they feel that the officer knows what is best and that they should follow what the officer says in most situations, leading to unreliable confessions. According to the Center for Wrongful Convictions, run by Northwestern Law School, a false confession may be exonerated if an individual made a false statement to authorities that was then treated as a confession, the authorities falsely stated that the individual made a statement when he or she denies the claim, or when a statement is misinterpreted as an admission of guilt when it was not.

What Are Your Rights?

The 14th Amendment affords you the right to an interrogation free of coercive questioning by legal authorities. During an interrogation you have the right to plead the 5th Amendment, meaning you have the right to not incriminate yourself in a crime. Upon being detained, the police must read the defendant his or her Miranda rights. Miranda rights are those rights informing a suspect that they have the right (1) to remain silent (2) that anything they say can, and will be held against them in a court of law (3) there is a right to an attorney, and if the defendant cannot afford one, the state will provide an attorney in that situation.

The right to an attorney under the 5th Amendment applies to the custodial interrogation stage, unlike the 6th Amendment right to an attorney. The 5th Amendment allows a suspect to consult an attorney before a custodial interrogation even if they have not been formally charged with a crime.

In 2011, the United States Supreme Court expanded the use of Miranda warnings to children in schools who are the subject of interrogation. One North Carolina middle schooler was pulled from a classroom by an officer and questioned, without the presence of his legal guardian, and was not advised of his legal rights, through the administration of Miranda rights. While he was told he could go free at some point, the undue influence of school officials in telling him to ‘do the right thing’ was seen by the Supreme Court as an exercise of undue influence. The Court found that the age of a child who is suspect to interrogation is a relevant and important decision making factor for admissibility of a confession. Based on a child’s age, they may think they are required to answer police questioning while in school, which is mandatory, and would not know of their ability to remain silent.

Have You Been the Subject of Undue Influence?

Many citizens do not realize the legal ramifications of a coerced confession, and unfortunately, many are wrongfully imprisoned due to the undue influence of legal authorities. If you or someone you know made a confession under the pressure of government officials, please contact our skilled Charlotte criminal defense attorneys today. You can reach us by calling the Offices of Remington & Dixon, PLLC, or get in touch using our live chat feature on our website or the messaging center. We will work to get you justice.

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