Netflix’s documentary series “Making a Murderer” became a subject of popular speculation in the months after its release. Many people were convinced that Brendan Dassey, who confessed to assisting his uncle Steven Avery in the 2005 rape and murder of Teresa Halbach, was actually innocent.
Dassey, who was just 16 at the time of his confession, was portrayed in “Making a Murderer” as struggling with several questions during interrogation. He did not have a lawyer or a parent present during interrogation, and court records estimate his IQ between 69 and 73 – below the generally-accepted average score of 100 and near the threshold for intellectual disability, which is 70.
The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, however, recently denied Dassey a new trial, finding that Dassey’s confession in the Halbach case was not coerced.
By doing so, the court overturned a lower court ruling that had found the confession was involuntary and that, therefore, Dassey’s conviction should be overturned.
While the appellate court noted that Dassey’s age, cognitive abilities, inconsistencies in his confession, and certain behavior by the interrogators all “tended to support” the argument that the confession was involuntary, the court chose to place more weight on factors that indicated Dassey had confessed voluntarily. For instance, the court noted how Dassey spoke with the interrogators “freely, after receiving and understanding Miranda warnings” and how he volunteered “many of the damning details himself in response to open-ended questions.”
The court was divided in its decision, however, with four judges in favor of denying Dassey a new trial and three dissenting. Chief Judge Diane Wood, who wrote a dissenting opinion, described the Seventh Circuit’s decision as a “travesty of justice.”
Justice Ilena Rovner, in a separate dissent, wrote that “no reasonable state court, knowing what we now know…could possibly have concluded that Dassey’s confession was voluntary as given.” Justice Rovner’s dissent went on to say, “I view this as a miscarriage of justice.”
Appealing a criminal conviction is a complex process. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you build the strongest possible case on appeal. To learn more, contact The Law Office of Jill R. Cohen today via our online contact form or call us at 856-242-7177 to schedule a consultation.
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