If you practice law for a long enough period of time, you will see things that will bother you. You will see the innocent get convicted. You will see the guilty walk free. You will see things that will make you sick to your stomach and things that will bring a tear to your eye but in all of those experiences, you will never see an injustice greater than what happened to Brendan Dassey. Dassey is an innocent young man that had his life ripped apart because of a false confession and if something is not done to right this wrong, he will be incarcerated until 2048 or later.
Brendan Dassey (Tracy Symonds-Keogh / Wikimedia Commons)
The case of Brendan Dassey gained national fame when the Netflix series “Making a Murderer” was released in 2015. The series examined the 2005–2007 investigation, prosecution and trials of Dassey and his uncle, Steven Avery, who were both convicted of murdering photographer Teresa Halbach on October 31, 2005.
How Brandan Dassey was looped into the interrogation presents a bizarre series of events many of which will be covered in future articles but for today, our goal will be to focus on the false confession. The facts in this case are extremely problematic when looked at from an objective point of view. Dassey was interrogated on four occasions over a 48-hour period, including three times in a 24-hour time frame with no legal representative, parent, or other adult present. Initially interviewed on November 6 at the family cabin in Crivitz, Wisconsin. Eventually, through the constant number of interrogations, Dassey provided a confession. Social media would eventually get involved in the case and the story of Brendan Dassey took a number of bizarre turns. Let’s look at where the case has been:
Dassey was convicted and then in August 2016, a federal magistrate judge ruled that Dassey’s confession had been coerced, overturned his conviction, and ordered him released, which was delayed during appeal. In June 2017, a divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the magistrate’s order overturning Dassey’s conviction. In December 2017, the full en banc Seventh Circuit upheld Dassey’s conviction by a vote of 4-3, with the majority finding that the police had properly obtained Dassey’s confession. After all of this judicial maneuvering, Dassey sits in prison. To examine this tragedy, we asked leaders in the legal community to provide insight.
Scott Grabel is the founder of Grabel and Associates and has developed the top defense firm in the state of Michigan. When asked about Dassey, Grabel stated, “This poor kid was interrogated using the Reid technique. That is a technique that has proven over and over again to elicit false confessions. Studies have shown that Dassey was evaluated as highly suggestible which means that the authorities took advantage of him when obtaining a confession. It’s clear that Dassey did not commit this crime and his incarceration is a black eye on the entire judicial system.”
Judge Cedric Simpson sits on the bench in Washtenaw County in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Simpson was known as an elite prosecutor after a successful criminal defense career which propelled him to the bench. Simpson provided commentary when he said, “When you are a prosecutor, your job is not always to get a conviction, instead, your job is to uphold justice. Anybody with an ounce of objectivity can see that Brendan Dassey does not belong in prison. When you see a case like Dassey have so many pitfalls in the judicial system, we have to remember that a defendant is deemed innocent before being proven guilty and not the other way around.”
Jeremy Tatum is an attorney in Saginaw, Michigan and worked for many years in social work. Tatum, whom also runs a company called “Living Proof Motivation” whose goal is to help young people in need has studied the situation. Tatum said, “When the Reid technique is used, the investigating officers often know who will be susceptible to it. The study of Reid clearly shows there is a socioeconomic bias to the technique. If there was a fair interrogation, Brendan Dassey would not be incarcerated.”
Matthew McManus is the founder of Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and has a very heavy criminal law docket. McManus added, “The Dassey case makes me sick because it strikes to close to home. There are eerie similarities between the Dassey interrogation and the Brian Ali case we are working on. Brian, like Brandan, is an innocent man that was lured into a confession with aggressive techniques. Brendan’s case also has parallels to the Jessie Misskelley confession that led to the “West Memphis Three” tragedy. As a criminal litigator, there is a lot of frustration. Do we really need a documentary or mini-series to stop innocent people from being convicted? Brendan Dassey should be released today.”
The journey of Brendan Dassey has many chapters left. To do our part, we should contact the Bluhm Legal Clinic as their “Center for Wrongful Conviction of Youth” project is fighting for Brendan and his freedom. Every day we do not do something is a day where Brendan Dassey lays wrongfully convicted.
William Amadeo is a partner at the law firm of Ann Arbor Legal and a Senior Associate at Grabel and Associates in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In addition to his legal duties, he owns BAT Tutoring in Lansing, Michigan and has a column with “The Chronicle News” and other websites.