CWCY Client Brendan Dassey Wins at Seventh Circuit


Social Justice Bluhm Legal Clinic Faculty

The following is a statement from Professors Steven Drizin and Laura Nirider, Brendan Dassey’s attorneys, on today’s ruling by the Seventh Circuit:

Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld the district court’s August 2016 decision granting Brendan Dassey’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Brendan has sought justice for more than a decade; and today, we find ourselves a significant step closer to achieving that justice.

In a 104-page majority opinion, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, agreeing that Brendan is entitled to a new trial because his confession to the rape and murder of Teresa Halbach was involuntary. Like the district court, the Seventh Circuit found that “the leading, the fact-feeding, the false promises, the manipulation of Dassey’s desire to please, the physical, fatherly assurances as Wiegert touched Dassey’s knee” all combined to overwhelm the will of sixteen-year-old, intellectually disabled, socially avoidant Brendan Dassey—rendering his interrogation “death by a thousand cuts.” In rejecting the State’s assertion that Brendan confessed voluntarily, the court acknowledged what many parents already recognize: Brendan’s youthfulness and intellectual disability make him particularly vulnerable in the interrogation room. In particular, it pointed to the fact that Brendan’s interrogators effectively gave him a “free pass to say whatever he wanted (or, more accurately, whatever he thought the investigators wanted to hear)” while indicating that he “would not go to jail.”

We are overjoyed for Brendan and his family, and we look forward to working to secure his release from prison as soon as possible. As of today’s date, Brendan Dassey has lost 4,132 days of his life to prison.

We are grateful to amici curiae Juvenile Law Center, Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates, Inc., and University of Virginia School of Law Professor Brandon Garrett. Those organizations worked together to file an unprecedented “friend of the court” brief explaining that Brendan’s videotaped interrogation was so problematic that it is now shown to officers around the country as an example of “how not to interrogate.” We are also grateful to our longtime colleague and co-counsel Robert Dvorak of the Milwaukee firm Halling & Cayo.

Attorney Laura Nirider is the co-director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth (CWCY), and attorney Steven Drizin is the founder of the CWCY. Based at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Bluhm Legal Clinic, the CWCY is dedicated to representing children like Brendan and to reforming police interrogation tactics to reduce the risk of false and involuntary confessions in the future.

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