Please join us in asking the state of Wisconsin to enact “Brendan Dassey's Law” in order to prevent other minors from suffering the same fate as Brendan Dassey. Brendan’s case highlights the need for the enactment of legislation which would require that an attorney be present during a custodial interrogation of a minor.
Brendan Dassey was wrongfully convicted of murder in the state of Wisconsin in 2007, on the basis of a coerced false confession to the rape and murder of Teresa Halbach. No other evidence supports his conviction, and physical evidence flatly contradicts the statements in which he incriminated himself.
At the time he confessed, Brendan was 16 years old, with an IQ of about 70. He had no criminal record, and he was not a trouble maker. Police initially turned their attention to him because he was a defense witness for another man (Steven Avery) whom they had accused of murdering Halbach.
The recent Netflix series “Making a Murderer” has brought renewed attention to Brendan’s case. The 10-part documentary details the murder of Teresa Halbach and the controversy surrounding her death. Video clips of Brendan’s interrogation, which are presented in the documentary, have left many viewers wondering how Brendan’s confession was ever deemed admissible at trial.
The video clips seen in the documentary, focus on Brendan’s final interrogation before his arrest. That interrogation session was the fourth time Brendan had been interrogated without a parent or an attorney present, all within the span of 48 hours.
Audio and video recordings show how interrogators adopted a friendly, solicitous manner and quickly brought Brendan under their control. Video footage shows that Brendan was willing to go along with any story line they suggested.
Working to build a narrative that Brendan was with Avery at the time of the murder, investigators told Brendan that Avery had done something to the victim’s head, and asked him what it was. Brendan responded that Avery had cut her hair. No matter how many times the interrogators asked what else Avery had done to the victim’s head, they drew a blank from Brendan. Finally they became frustrated and told Brendan that Halbach had been shot in the head, at which point he agreed.
When the case went to trial, the jury was led to believe that Brendan told police during questioning that Halbach had been shot in the head. Just like that, unreliable information obtained from an improper interrogation of a juvenile, was presented as factual damning evidence in court.
The head wound evidence is just one example to show how police were able to manipulate a juvenile into providing unreliable information. In fact, the entire narrative which resulted from Brendan’s interrogation is nonsensical.
According to Brendan’s confession, he and Avery raped and repeatedly stabbed Halbach in Avery’s bedroom, while she was chained to a bed. Forensic tests, however, revealed no trace of the victim’s blood, fingerprints or DNA in this room, or, for that matter, anywhere in Avery’s residence. Nor was any physical trace of Brendan’s presence found in the room or in Avery’s residence. Police photos show that the premises are undisturbed except for ordinary clutter. Not one scrap of physical evidence suggests that a bloody assault took place there.
A review of Brendan’s police interrogations shows he did not begin to understand the gravity of his situation. He was gullible and pliant. He acquiesced to a murder scenario that could not possibly have transpired. If Brendan had an attorney with him during his interrogations; this completely unreliable narrative would have never developed in the first place.
According to the Bluhm Legal Clinic: “researchers have concluded that most youth – even those who might be considered "street-smart" – simply do not understand their Miranda rights to counsel and to remain silent. Accordingly, these children do not exercise those essential rights and are thus left alone during police interrogation, without the assistance of counsel, a friendly adult, or their parents. Too often, the child's resulting statement is involuntary or unreliable.“
The United States Supreme Court describes a custodial interrogation as an interrogation where: "a reasonable person would have felt he or she was not at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave." Even if a minor has the legal right to get up and walk out, the vast majority of minors would have no idea that they had that option. Therefore, it is reasonable to view any interrogation of a minor as a custodial interrogation.
For these reasons, Brendan Dassey's Law should impose the following safeguards:
1. Require that an attorney be present during any custodial interrogation of a minor. This should be viewed as a nonwaivable right.
2. Require law enforcement to inform a minor before an interrogation begins that he or she could be charged as an adult based on information obtained during an interrogation.
Wisconsin law currently falls short, as it only requires law enforcement to immediately attempt to notify the child’s parent or guardian. The state does not specify whether juveniles have the right to the presence of an attorney or a parent during questioning.
Thankfully, in 2005, the Wisconsin Supreme Court exercised its supervisory power to require that all custodial interrogations of juveniles be recorded. The recording of Brendan Dassey’s interrogation provides a clear cut example of why minors need further protection.
The Bluhm Legal Clinic has modeled legislation which can be used as a guideline for legislators looking to improve the system. Their recommendations can be viewed here: http://www.law.northwestern.edu/legalclinic/wrongfulconvictionsyouth/resources/legislation/
The state of Wisconsin made a promising move in the right direction by recognizing the need for recorded interrogations. They now need to further their efforts by enacting Brendan Dassey's Law. Such legislation will not only work to protect the rights of juveniles; it will also help law enforcement to be sure that they are acquiring reliable information from their interrogations.
This petition is managed by Injustice Anywhere.