The US Supreme Court has declined to take up the case of Brendan Dassey, one of the subjects of the Netflix true-crime documentary smash Making a Murderer. Dassey was convicted of the rape, murder, and mutilation of the corpse of Teresa Halbach in 2007, and is currently serving a life sentence. Dassey’s uncle, Steven Avery, was also convicted of murdering Halbach.
Dassey was 17 at the time of his conviction (16 at the time of Halbach’s death) and is now 28.
According to the Washington Post, the Supreme Court did not give a reason for denying Dassey’s petition, as is customary.
Dassey’s conviction was overturned in 2016, and a federal appeals panel ruled that Dassey’s confession had been coerced in 2017. That decision was overturned by the full appeals court later in 2017. Dassey’s lawyers have argued that the confession he gave that ultimately led to his conviction was coerced. Per the Post:
Lawyers for Dassey told the court that words “cannot adequately convey what transpired here; for that the court should review the video of Dassey’s interrogations . . . It can then draw its own conclusion about whether the interrogators improperly coerced a juvenile with significant intellectual and social limitations.”
In his 2017 decision, the United States Court of Appeals’ Judge David Hamilton wrote:
Dassey spoke with the interrogators freely, after receiving and understanding Miranda warnings, and with his mother’s consent. The interrogation took place in a comfortable setting, without any physical coercion or intimidation, without even raised voices, and over a relatively brief time. Dassey provided many of the most damning details himself in response to open-ended questions.
Following the announcement of the Supreme Court’s decision, the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, which represents Dassey, tweeted out a statement from his lawyer, Laura Nirider. It reads in part:
We will continue to fight to free Brendan Dassey. Brendan was a sixteen-year old with intellectual and social disabilities when he confessed to a crime he did not commit. The video of Brendan’s interrogation shows a confused boy who was manipulated by experienced police officers into accepting their story of how the murder of Teresa Halbach happened. These officers repeatedly assured him that everything would be ‘okay’ if he just told them what they wanted to hear and then fed him facts so that Brendan’s ‘confession’ fit their theory of the crime. By the end of the interrogation, Brendan was so confused that he actually thought he was going to return to school after confessing to murder. Nonetheless, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison on the basis of this ‘confession.’
Unfortunately, Brendan isn’t alone. Over the past twenty years, extensive empirical and psychological research has shown that children under 18 are between three and four times more likely to falsely confess than adults – and yet the criminal justice system fails many of them. It’s up to the courts to put an end to this. Now, more than ever, courts around the country must update their understandings of coercion in light of the newly understood problem of false confessions. The Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth is dedicated to continuing this effort, along with our justice-minded partners in both law enforcement and defense-oriented communities across the globe.
We would like to extend sincere gratitude to the dozens of former prosecutors, national law enforcement trainers, leading psychological experts, innocence projects, juvenile justice organizations, and law professors who filed amicus briefs in this case and who, along with our legal team, will continue to fight for Brendan and the many other children who have been wrongfully convicted due to the use of coercive interrogation tactics.”