In October 2005, Brandan Dassey and his uncle Steven Avery, of the Netflix docu-series “Making a Murderer,” allegedly raped, then killed Teresa Halbach. Throughout the police interrogation that followed, investigators told Dassey – then a high school sophomore whose IQ had been measured between 74 and 81 – that “honesty” is what they wanted to hear and that it’s “the only thing that will set you free.”
Dassay and Avery were each convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. They have separately appealed their convictions through state and federal filings over the past 12 years.
Last month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed an earlier Federal District Court ruling that overturned Dassey’s murder conviction.
In a 2-1 decision on June 22nd, U.S. Magistrate William Duffin held that Dassey’s constitutional rights were violated because of the promises made during the course of the interrogation. Duffin ruled that Manitowoc County detectives had “repeated false promises” that “when considered in conjunction with all relevant factors, most especially Dassey’s age, intellectual deficits and the absence of a supportive adult, rendered Dassey’s confession involuntary.”
The case against Dassey – who remains in jail pending the outcome of the State’s next appeal – was constructed largely on that coerced confession. In a 24-page dissent, Judge David Hamilton opined that the majority’s decision would burden police and prosecutors’ ability to investigate crimes.
If such gentle interrogation can be treated as unconstitutionally coercive, what should police do next time an investigation leads to a teenager with some intellectual challenges? Few wrongdoers are eager to own up to crimes as serious as Dassey’s.… Today’s decision will make some police investigations considerably difficult, with little gained in terms of justice.
On July 5th, the Wisconsin Department of Justice petitioned the Seventh Circuit en banc, asking that the panel reconsider its decision for two reasons.
First, the State argues, “…the panel majority has rewritten the rules for juvenile interrogations, in multiple ‘significant’ ways.” Second, the State claims that “the panel majority also departed from a string of habeas decisions involving confessions by juveniles who were denied relief despite being subjected to far greater pressures than Dassey was.”
Should the Seventh Circuit deny the en banc petition (grants of which are extremely rare), the State is likely to seek certiorari in the United States Supreme Court.
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