Federal District Court Overturns Brendan Dassey’s 2007 Conviction for Rape and Murder
The Eastern District Court of Michigan this past week released a decision to throw out the confession of Brendan Dassey, a Wisconsin man who has been serving a life sentence in prison after a conviction for raping and murdering a woman in 2005, according to The New York Times. Dassey was the 16-year-old learning disabled nephew of Steven Avery, who the court also sentenced to life for raping and murdering Teresa Halbach, a 25-year-old photographer. The court found that the detectives who interrogated Dassey pressured and led him to give an involuntary confession that he assisted in Avery’s rape and murder of Halbach. Without the confession, the state can either appeal the federal district court magistrate’s decision to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, retry Dassey, or release him from prison.
Dassey Investigators Used False Promises to Coerce a Confession
Civil rights groups have already criticized Dassey’s conviction; he was even the subject of a Netflix original series called Making a Murderer. NBC 5 Chicago reports that the federal court magistrate found that Dassey’s investigators made false promises, and gave him the impression that he was not a suspect in the investigation and didn’t have to worry about criminal charges. Because of these misleading tactics and the fact that Dassey had a low IQ and no experience dealing with the police, the magistrate found that Dassey made an involuntary confession.
Defendants May Suppress Involuntary Confessions
Many criminal defendants make plea deals wherein they agree to accept a particular conviction in exchange for leniency from prosecutors. But these plea deals are different from an actual confession. A confession is when a criminal defendant to police that they committed criminal acts. Such a confession makes it very difficult for a defendant to avoid a conviction at trial.
A defense lawyer may, however, exclude a confession from the trial if they can demonstrate that the defendant did not give the confession freely. The Illinois Code provides that the defense may move to suppress an involuntary confession. In determining whether or not the confession was voluntary, the court will examine the totality of the circumstances (every relevant fact), including both the nature of the interrogation and the character of the defendant. This can include how much pressure the interrogators used, the setting of the interrogation, its duration, and the age, experience and mental abilities of the defendant.
Age, Intellect and Interrogation Make Dassey Confession Involuntary
In Brendan Dassey’s case, the court had plenty of reasons to find that the confession was not voluntary. Dassey’s first interrogation did not result in any kind of confession. The investigators had to interrogate Dassey four times before he confessed. The investigators promised Dassey they were on his side and that he didn’t have to worry as long as he told the truth. Dassey was still a teenager at the time, had never dealt with the police, and had a borderline intelligence score. Many of the questions interrogators asked several times, and hinted strongly at what they wanted Dassey to say, even after he had changed his testimony several times. In the end, the picture emerges of investigators who manipulated a vulnerable person into telling them what they wanted to hear. Unfortunately, Dassey has already served almost a decade in prison. If he is released, it’s likely he will sue the state to compensate him for all he has suffered.
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If you or someone you know has been wrongfully convicted, you need expert legal help. Get in touch with an experienced criminal appeals lawyer at Barney & Hourihane in Chicago today to get the justice you deserve.
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