NACDL - Gerald Gault, Meet Brendan Dassey: Preventing Juvenile False and Coerced Confessions in the 21st Cen

Gerald Gault, Meet Brendan Dassey: Preventing Juvenile False and Coerced Confessions in the 21st Cen

Tucked among the pages of In re Gault is a discussion concerning a child’s right against compelled self-incrimination. This 50-year-old discussion resonates today because the problem still exists: the problem of unreliable confessions from juveniles. Perhaps no more widely recognized proof exists than the uncounseled, uncorroborated confession of 16-year-old, mentally limited Brendan Dassey. Police used misguided techniques to elicit a confession from Dassey: they told him that everything would be “OK” as long as he told them what they already believed he had done; they fed him crucial nonpublic details, including that the deceased had been shot in the head; and they falsely led him to believe that he would be returned to school in time to finish a project — even after he confessed to rape and murder.