This assignment involves viewing real police interrogation footage from an adolescent suspect accused of assisting his uncle commit a rape and murder. Some language in the footage makes explicit reference to the alleged murder, including questions about a potential murder weapon, and whether or not the suspect saw a dead body. If you are not comfortable viewing this material, please let me know (you don’t have to provide an explanation) and I will provide you with an alternate assignment.**
Supporting material: Before viewing the interrogation footage, please watch Elizabeth Loftus’ Ted Talk, which provides background research on memory:
Next, I am asking you to view and write an in-depth analysis of a real police interrogation, that was conducted on Brendan Dassey, who was shown on the documentary “Making a Murderer.”
Please watch the video clip linked here, which shows a series of clips of the suspect, Brendan Dassey being interrogated by police. Please watch the film starting at the 00:47:50 (forty seven minutes and fifty seconds) until the 01:11:00 (one hour and 11 minutes)
Brendan Dassey: A True Story of A False Confession
Brendan Dassey: A True Story of A False Confession
The suspect shown in the film clip is Brendan Dassey. A teenager who has been brought in for questioning in a murder case in which Brendan’s cousin, Steven Avery, is the primary suspect. The police are questioning Brendan about his potential involvement in the crime. Brendan Dassey ultimately confessed by saying that he helped his uncle dispose of the murder victim’s body and was found guilty of murder (his Uncle Steven Avery was also found guilty of murder).
For this assignment, I’d like you to imagine that you have been brought in as a consultant to provide expert advice about the interrogation questions used by the police officers shown in the video. In particular, your job is to analyze how the types of questions used may lead to biased memory retrieval, recall, memory distortion, or wholly false memories. Your analysis should also provide specific recommendations about how law enforcement officers should conduct interrogations in the future in order to prevent the particular problems you highlight.
In your analysis (which should be approximately 2-3 pages long, double-spaced) you should make sure to address each of the following points:
What do you think the officers did wrong in the interrogation? That is, what kinds of questions were used that you would expect to lead to memory distortions, false memories, or other memory problems in the suspect? Cite specific evidence (as discussed in lecture, the textbook, and the provided video content) to support your answer. ** Please note that you do not need to analyze whether or not you believe the suspect is guilty here, or whether his confession was false or not. Instead, your job is to assess the potential for memory disruption in this case. ** (7.5 points)
Based on your answer to the question above, provide examples of how these officers SHOULD HAVE asked questions to Brendan Dassey in order to prevent memory distortions or false memories. Provide specific examples of good questions that these officers could have used, and explain WHY these would be good questions. (5 points)
Based on your answers to the questions above, provide a clear set of general recommendations for future interrogations (in other words, guidelines that could be used in all future cases) that could be used in training materials for law enforcement officers that would prevent memory problems in suspects and eyewitnesses. (2.5 points)
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