For anyone watching 'Making a Murder,' from seasoned attorneys to your average layperson, it was fairly obvious what happened to Brendan Dassey, nephew of the documentary's subject Steven Avery. An impressionable and possibly mentally impaired teen was hauled into a police station and bolstered, berated, and badgered in turns until he confessed to a gruesome murder. (This followed similar treatment from his own attorney.) And it was also apparent to viewers, as it must have been to the officers interviewing him, that Dassey's confession failed to match the facts of the case.
Today, a federal judge agreed, saying that Dassey's constitutional rights had been violated by both his attorney and police investigators, overturned his conviction, and ordered him to be released, ten years after his conviction.
A Defendant Alone
U.S. Magistrate Judge William Duffin pulled no punches in his 91-page opinion, heaping scorn upon Dassey's first attorney, Len Kachinsky, as well as police interrogators who questioned Dassey. Over a 48-hour period, Dassey was interrogated four times -- including three times in just 24 hours -- all without legal representation, and most without a parent, or other adult present. (For those who didn't see the documentary, prior to the police interrogation, Kachinsky urged Dassey to confess to him, then passed on that information to officers.) Judge Duffin wrote:
Although it probably does not need to be stated, it will be: Kachinsky's conduct was inexcusable both tactically and ethically. It is one thing for an attorney to point out to a client how deep of a hole the client is in. But to assist the prosecution in digging that hole deeper is an affront to the principles of justice that underlie a defense attorney's vital role in the adversarial system.
As for the officers that interrogated Dassey and misled him as to the evidence in the case as well as the consequences of his confession:
These repeated false promises, when considered in conjunction with all relevant factors, most especially Dassey's age, intellectual deficits, and the absence of a supportive adult, rendered Dassey's confession involuntary under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals' decision to the contrary was an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law.
A Wrong Righted
Dassey's conviction in Teresa Halbach's murder was based entirely on his confession. In light of the constitutional violations involved in securing that confession, Judge Duffin reversed Dassey's conviction and ordered him to be released from the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin. Prosecutors will have 90 days to decide if they would like to retry Dassey.
The ruling is certainly welcome news to Dassey, and to many who have been critical of his prosecution. He has now spent ten years in custody since he was first arrested in March 2006, at just 16 years old.