Hit series ‘Making a Murder’ inspires proposed bill in Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – It’s an issue that has drawn recent attention due to the popularity of the Netflix documentary series “Making a Murderer:” juveniles being interrogated.

Now a Tennessee representative has filed a bill that would prohibit juveniles from being interrogated without a parent, guardian or legal counsel present.

Mike Sparks (Courtesy: TN.gov)
Mike Sparks (Courtesy: TN.gov)

State Rep. Mike Sparks filed HB 1449 on Dec. 21, 2015, three days after “Making a Murderer” first debuted on Netflix.

The bill was inspired by the 10-part documentary series which follows the murder trials of Steven Avery and his then-teenage nephew, Brendan Dassey.

The series has cast doubt on the legal process.

During the 2005 investigation, Dassey, who was 16 at the time, was interviewed by police without his lawyer or a guardian present.

While being interviewed, Dassey confessed to the murder of Teresa Halbach.

Dassey’s defense attorney later argued to have the confession thrown out as evidence in the trial, but a judge denied the motion and Dassey was ultimately convicted of First-Degree Intentional Homicide in the case.

Under the current Tennessee law, a child is entitled to legal representation during all stages of any delinquency proceedings.

Brendan Dassey being interrogated (Courtesy: WBAY)
Brendan Dassey being interrogated (Courtesy: WBAY)

Rep. Sparks’ proposed bill would clarify the law by requiring a child be accompanied by legal counsel, a parent or a guardian during any interview or interrogation related to an alleged violation of state or federal law.

Former federal prosecutor Alex Little is now an attorney for Bone McAllester Norton law firm.

He reviewed the proposed law for News 2.

“I get calls from parents all the time that say my son was interviewed by a police officer at school isn’t that against the law. Don’t I have a right to be there?” Little said. “Under the existing law you don’t.”

In addition, Sparks’ bill would also require investigators to read off certain rights to the juvenile:

  • The right to be informed of the reason the child was taken into custody
  • The right to be released to a parent, guardian, or other custodian within a reasonable time or delivered to a detention facility, shelter facility, or medical facility
  • The right to legal counsel during all stages of any proceedings including any interview or interrogation
  • The right to have the child’s legal counsel, parent, guardian, or custodian present during any interview or interrogation concerning any violation of state or federal law, which cannot be waived

The interview would also have to be videotaped.

“…the provisions are going to be important and I think positive changes in criminal law,” Little said. “When I was a prosecutor I vastly preferred to have an interview recorded because you know exactly what was said and what happened before a potential confession.”

State lawmakers are in Nashville this week for the start of the legislative session.

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