In listening to the discussions of the Netflix documentary, “The Making of a Murderer,” an overwhelming majority of people mention the confession of the 16 year old suspect Brandon Dassey as being particularly disconcerting. Mr. Dassey, was a high school boy with an IQ in the 70’s when he confessed to participating in a sexual assault, kidnapping and murder. He made multiple confessions and recanted the confessions each time.
The combination of his tender age and his borderline mentally retarded/developmentally disabled cognitive abilities made him particularly vulnerable to interrogation techniques employed by an investigator and police. For those who are not familiar with interrogation techniques used against Mr. Dassey, one needs only to study the nine step Reid Technique espoused in Criminal Interrogation and Confessions by Inbau, Reid and Buckley (1986). This book is the authoritative text as to how to obtain a confession. Law enforcement in the United States has embraced this procedure and believe that a truly innocent individual will be able to withstand the psychological trickery and therefore if a confession is obtained, it must be the product of a guilty individual.
In order to understand the psychological underpinnings of this nine step approach one must realize that everything from a remote and quiet interrogation room, the placement of chairs, use of a desk, the wearing of civilian clothing etc. is all designed to increase tension and maximize the police officer’s control. The interrogation techniques are aimed at breaking down denials and resistance and thereby increasing the likelihood of a confession. But is the confession accurate?
In subsequent installments of this confession blog series, I will discuss in detail the Reid Technique and the psychological manipulations utilized, why innocent people confess to crimes they did not commit and the dangers inherent in confessions obtained using this technique.