The Most Important Lessons from Making a Murderer (That No One Is Talking About)

The most talked about television series in the country is Netflix’s Making a Murderer. The documentary focuses on the 2007 trial of Steven Avery for the murder of Teresa Halbach. Since its release, the series has sparked international outrage at the handling of the Steven Avery murder trial, among other things.

As a criminal defense attorney, I am thrilled that Making a Murderer has made two things clear to the general public, neither of which is related to the Steven Avery murder trial.

Wrongful Convictions Exist (the Steven Avery Rape Trial).
In the first episode of Making a Murderer, the viewer learns that Steven Avery was convicted of rape in 1985, only to be proven innocent by DNA evidence after serving eighteen years in prison.

A wrongful conviction is the single most disturbing facet of the criminal justice system. If someone is wrongfully convicted, they lose the most treasured thing in life: freedom.

If nothing else, the wrongful conviction of Steven Avery provides a graphic depiction of an uncomfortable truth: wrongful convictions exist and, as a result, countless innocent men are currently sitting in jail for crimes they did not commit.

False Confessions Exist (the Brendan Dassey Interviews).
Early in the series, the viewer watches Brendan Dassey, Steven Avery’s sixteen year old nephew, sit through hours of police interrogation. In the end, Dassey confesses to the rape and murder of Teresa Halbach.

“Innocent men don’t confess,” the prosecutor in Brendan Dassey’s murder case told the jury in closing arguments. Unfortunately for Dassey, the overwhelming majority of the general public agrees that no one would confess to a crime that they did not commit.

The truth is that many people confess to crimes they did not commit. I can’t explain it, but the inconvenient truth is that false confessions exist.

Need proof? Read the case of Damon Thibodeaux. In 1996, Thibodeaux confessed in graphic detail to beating and murdering his cousin and then spent fifteen years on death row, only to be proven innocent by DNA evidence and ultimately released.

In Making a Murderer, Dassey confesses to police that he raped and stabbed Teresa Halbach and subsequently slit her throat. His next question? Whether he can make it back to school in time for sixth period. The viewer is left to conclude that this young man had no understanding of his own confession.

Conclusion
Countless news outlets, blogs, and television shows have weighed in on the Steven Avery murder trial. In my opinion, the greatest value in Making a Murderer has nothing to do with the Steven Avery murder trial.

Wrongful convictions exist.

False confessions exist.

Now the question is what society can do to prevent such devastating miscarriages of justice.

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