Appeals Court Concurs: Brendan Dassey’s Confession Was Involuntary

Yesterday, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal magistrate judge’s ruling that Wisconsin inmate Brendan Dassey’s confession in the rape and murder of Teresa Halbach (featured in the Netflix series “Making a Murderer”) was involuntary. The state Justice Department had appealed and will likely seek a review by the 7th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court. The state also has the option of retrying Dassey within 90 days.

In an Associated Press article, Steven Drizin, an expert on false confessions, Co-founder of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at Northwestern University, and one of Dassey’s attorneys said,

“While these tactics might not have overwhelmed a seasoned criminal or a 30-year-old with a law degree, they clearly overwhelmed a 16-year-old, socially avoidant, intellectually limited (youth) who had never been interrogated by the police before.”

In the article we get a fascinating glimpse of how officials differ in viewing common interrogation techniques that have contributed to false confessions…

“The appellate panel split, with Judges Ilana Rovner and Ann Williams affirming and David Hamilton in dissent. The majority opinion by Rovner said ‘no reasonable court’ could have any confidence that Dassey’s confession was voluntary. It cited ‘the leading, the fact-feeding, the false promises, the manipulation of Dassey’s desire to please’ as among many factors that cast it in doubt.

“Hamilton, in dissent, wrote: ‘The majority’s decision breaks new ground and poses troubling questions for police and prosecutors. It calls into question standard interrogation techniques that courts have routinely found permissible, even in cases involving juveniles.’ ”

In this writer’s view, the problem with these “standard interrogation techniques,” which we now know risk prompting false confessions, is that they botch attempts to find the truth. This does not serve the interests of victims, defendants, or public safety.

Attorneys Steve Drizin and Laura Nirider indicated they would seek Dassey’s immediate release. He is now 27 and has been serving a life sentence.

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