Brendan Dassey Update: Ruling On Federal Case May Happen Within Months

A federal lawsuit that contends Brendan Dassey was illegally arrested and coerced into a false confession may only be months away from a hearing, but so far, there still isn’t a guaranteed date just yet.

Post-Crescent reports that Dassey, featured in the popular Netflix docu-series Making a Murderer, is still behind bars in connection with the 2005 murder of freelance photographer Teresa Halbach. His uncle, Steven Avery, also remains in prison for the same murder. Dassey’s attorneys filed the lawsuit around 13 months ago, alleging that Dassey was illegally arrested for the murder. They are determined to prove that Dassey not only did not commit the murder, but also that he was unlawfully coerced into a confession when he was just a teenager.

Dassey’s lawyers originally filed a case to get him a new trial, but it was rejected in 2013 by the Wisconsin state appeals court. In 2014, the Bluhm Legal Clinic at the Northwestern University School of Law filed a writ of habeas corpus at the U.S. District Court, in an attempt to bring Dassey before federal court to see if his confession, arrest, and subsequent conviction were legal.

Although it’s been over a year since the lawsuit was filed, Marquette University Law School professor Michael M. O’Hear said that it’s normal for court cases such as Dassey’s to take this long.

“I don’t know the average length of time to decide habeas cases, but I’ve certainly seen others that have taken this long or longer. My sense is that there are some unusually complicated legal and factual issues in this case. Also, when a case is in habeas, there is a lot of added complexity that comes from all of the special rules that are intended to discourage federal courts from granting relief to state prisoners.”

Dassey’s attorney, Laura Nirider, shared the same sentiments earlier this year when she said there isn’t a specific timetable for these sort of cases. Nirider also said she plans to fight for Dassey’s freedom by proving detectives coerced him into giving a false confession, despite them denying that they did anything wrong. The detectives involved in interviewing Dassey claimed that the fact that the Wisconsin Court of Appeals upheld his conviction proves that he was treated fairly during interrogation.

Should Dassey’s case be rejected, all is not lost. The next step for his attorneys is to take Dassey’s case to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and ultimately to the Supreme Court. Dassey’s case in particular sparked worldwide concern primarily because he was only 15 when he was pulled out of school by Manitowoc County detectives, placed in an interview room, and interrogated without the presence of his parents, nor the presence of an attorney.

According to the executive director of the National Juvenile Defender Center in Washington, D.C., Kim Dvorchak, many states have laws that require parents to be in their child’s presence while being interrogated, something Dassey apparently wasn’t afforded. Yet, Dvorchak states that parents being by their child’s side should never take the place of an attorney.

“Many states have parental presence laws that are required; what we found is that parents don’t typically stand in the shoes of an attorney. Parents have many other considerations; they may be worried about their own culpability. You need an un-conflicted person who is on the side of the child, advising the child.”

She added that Making a Murderer exposed to the world how numerous teenagers across the U.S. are being treated during interrogations, especially when there is no parent and attorney there to help them.

“I think the Brendan Dassey story (has) re-activated interest on this issue. It has vividly portrayed the power discrepancy between a young person and a police officer in ways that hit the general public in their hearts.”

In the meantime, a Change.org petition, created in order to help “free Brendan Dassey,” has already reached over 92,000 signatures of its 150,000 goal. When the petition reaches its goal, it’s scheduled to be sent to Governor Scott Walker and Milwaukee Magistrate Judge William E. Duffin.

[Photo by AP/ Sue Pischke, Pool]