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Portland Criminal Law Blog

False confessions: Netflix still featuring high-profile cases

In the Netflix documentary series Making a Murder, filmmakers alleged that police and prosecutors in a murder/rape case in a rural Wisconsin county coerced a confession from a 16-year-old child with extremely low intelligence. The series attracted international interest and will be back for a second season.

The filmmakers will have plenty more ground to cover, as there continue to be procedural developments in the case. In this post, we will discuss how true-crime documentaries reflect the ongoing problem of wrongful conviction in the U.S. justice system.

5 FAQs on exonerations

It might seem like a long shot, getting your criminal conviction overturned. And it's certainly true that you can take nothing for granted.

But the fact of the matter is that there were a record number of exonerations last year in the United States.

In this post, we'll use a Q & A format to dig into some of the numbers that quantify this.

An off-campus brawl and the fear of Measure 11 sentencing

Fights that break out among college students are not unusual. There could be a tussle among the members of competitive fraternities after a baseball game, or a brawl that breaks out at an off-campus bar. However, if the fight becomes vicious or weapons are used, the resulting assault charges could be serious.

Measure 11 outlines strict minimum sentencing requirements for assault convictions, which include jail time. If your son is charged with assault, a defense attorney experienced with allegations at this level will work toward the best possible outcome for his case.

How post-conviction relief differs from an appeal

Two common ways to challenge the results of a criminal proceeding may include appealing to a higher court or initiating a motion for post-conviction relief in the trial court.

An appellate court will only review questions of law. This means you can only use an appeal to argue the trial judge made a legal mistake that resulted in your convictions.

Why false confessions are so common

About 25 percent of people who receive a wrong conviction either made a false confession or an incriminating statement that prosecutors then used to convict them. Why would an innocent person confess to a crime? Unfortunately, it happens all too often, according to the Innocence Project, which reports 254 people exonerated in the past two decades. 

A false confession is an untrue statement the defendant makes which authorities treat as a confession. They may also misinterpret something the defendant says as a confession when he or she did not mean it to be an admission of guilt. Authorities may also claim that the defendant made a confession, even though the defendant denies it. 

What crimes are eligible to be set aside?

An arrest or conviction on your record can change your future, but under some circumstances it is possible to change that record. Oregon state law does not allow expungement, but the reference "setting aside the conviction/arrest" is nearly the same expression, according to the process as outlined by the Washington County Circuit Court. In essence, when the court grants one of these motions, the record of the arrest or the conviction is set aside, so that the applicant is legally not considered to have been arrested or convicted.

If you have only a single conviction, you must wait at least three years before filing the motion to set aside this conviction. The application process is complex, and it takes about three months for the paperwork to go through channels. However, if it is approved, your record will be cleared. 

Immigration consequences of a criminal conviction

President Trump's immigration ban was big news in the early days of the new administration. This news story was more prominent than another executive order also signed in the first few weeks of the new presidency. This order expanded the population of immigrants which could be picked up for deportation. According to U.S. immigration authorities, raids are now targeting undocumented immigrants with criminal records, but those without criminal records can be deported. However, even lawful permanent residents have reason to be concerned, especially if they have a criminal conviction on their record.

More on 'Making a Murderer': FAQs on the problem of false confessions

A lot has happened in the Making a Murderer case since we wrote about it last year.

At the time of our August 23 post, a federal magistrate judge had just overturned the rape-and-murder conviction of Brendan Dassey, a 16-year-old boy with very limited intelligence. The judge ruled that investigators had violated Dassey's constitutional rights by coercing his confession.

The ruling came after filmmakers from the Netflix documentary Making a Murder called international attention to the procedural problems in the case.

Dassey isn't out of prison yet, however. Wisconsin authorities are appealing the magistrate's ruling. Earlier this month, a federal appeals court in Chicago heard oral arguments in the case.

In this post, we will address some frequently asked questions about false confessions.

Can I get relief from registering as a sex offender?

A sexual offense crime has several layers of consequences, and one of these consequences is the requirement to register as a sex offender. This can prohibit you from getting a job, a home or even going back to school. Fortunately, for some sex offenses, there are means to get relief from having to register as an offender. In January, new laws went into effect for registration and relief as a sex offender. The first steps toward relief is knowing your classification as a sex offender.

How common are false convictions?

Most of our nation's public school systems teach a few fundamental concepts about our criminal justice system as core beliefs that motivate Americans as a whole. Among those are the right to a fair trial, by a jury, that convicts based on evidence beyond all reasonable doubt. In theory, this should lead to a fair and impartial way of deciding who is and is not guilty. According to research, though, what happens in practice is completely different.

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