A legal victory came down Monday for Ava DuVernay and Netflix as a judge threw out a defamation lawsuit against them for the award-winning limited series on the Exonerated Five, When They See Us.
DuVernay and the streaming service were being sued by John E. Reid and Associates, the company that developed a police interrogation technique in the 1950s called the Reid Technique, which has gone on to become, according to the company, the most widely-used interrogation technique by police around the world. The technique is shown to be used by detectives questioning the five young Black and brown boys who were coerced into falsely admitting culpability for a horrific rape in Central Park in 1989, depicted in When They See Us.
“If the technique is as widely used as Reid says it is, the effect of the criticism has been felt well beyond Illinois’s borders. To find that DuVernay should be haled into court here because she criticized a process sold by a company that happens to be located in Illinois would be to offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice," reads the ruling.
The technique has been considered a controversial tactic for years. In 2011, PBS' Frontline reported on why it is often thought of as a dubious technique:
“According to [New York Magazine's Robert] Kolker, this method of interrogation is questioned by some legal scholars: 'Critics say the Reid technique is a major source of the problem [of false confessions]...What was once seen as the vanguard of criminal science, they argue, is nothing more than a psychological version of the third degree.' He adds: 'Reid detractors also say that police often feed evidence to suspects, which accounts for why false confessors sometimes know details about a crime that they wouldn't otherwise know.'"
Frontline also reported that the University of Virginia School of Law professor, Brandon L. Garrett, said that his research “suggests that innocents actually confess a lot," as forty of the first 250 people who have been exonerated thanks to DNA evidence falsely confessed to crimes they didn't commit.
Former prosecutor Linda Fairstein, portrayed by Felicity Huffman in the series, also recently filed a suit against DuVernay and Netflix, which the streaming service has hit back at. “Linda Fairstein’s frivolous lawsuit is without merit. We intend to vigorously defend When They See Us and Ava DuVernay and Attica Locke, the incredible team behind the series,” said Netflix.
When They See Us, which won Jharrel Jerome the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie, is currently streaming.
From Harlem to Hollywood, get the Black entertainment news you need in your inbox daily.