‘MaM’: SCOTUS Next Step For Brendan Dassey Appeal

Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against "Making a Murderer" subject.

Brendan Dassey in court.
Jaslyn Gilbert / AP Images

Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against "Making a Murderer" subject.

Making a Murderer subject Brendan Dassey won’t be home for Christmas, and he’ll miss WrestleMania again after the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a 2016 ruling that the confession he gave in the 2005 murder of Wisconsin photographer Teresa Halbach was coerced.

His lawyers, however, say they are not stopping their fight to prove the now 28-year-old Dassey’s civil rights were violated by investigators Mark Wiegert and Tom Fassbender. Their next step is the United States Supreme Court, their last option to get a higher court to throw out the confession.

“We are profoundly disappointed by the decision of four judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to reverse two prior decisions and deny relief to Brendan Dassey,” a statement from Steven Drizin and Laura Nirider reads. “Like many around the globe, we share the view of the three judges who wrote, in dissent, that today’s ruling represents a ‘profound miscarriage of justice.’ We intend to continue pursuing relief for Brendan, including through a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.”

Drizin and Nirider have long contended that police did not use special care when they questioned Brendan Dassey in 2006 when he was a cognitively deficient 16-year-old boy taking special education classes and barely passing the 10th grade at Mishicot High School.

The lawyers said hours after the Friday, December 8, ruling that Dassey’s confession was voluntary that the Seventh circuit contravened a fundamental United States Supreme Court position that subjects like Brendan, a child with a mental impairment, cannot be subjected to the same interrogation tactics applied to adults. In other words, Drizin and Nirider said, interrogations that may not be coercive when applied to adults are, are indeed coercive when applied to people like Brendan.

The Seventh Circuit, however, did not see it that way in the Dassey case. As expected, part of last week’s ruling came down to whether the confession violated the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). The act stipulates in the U.S. Code that the case would have to be in violation of clearly established Supreme Court law and that the confession so blatantly coercive that no reasonable judge would admit it into evidence. The court deemed that while Fassbender and Wiegert may have bluffed Dassey, Brendan gave a voluntary confession about his role in the rape, murder, and mutilation of Teresa Halbach on Halloween 2005.

“We at the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth are committed to continuing to fight on behalf of Brendan and others like him to prevent future miscarriages of justice,” Drizin and Nirider concluded.

While Dassey supporters now cling to the hope that the Supreme Court will free him, the odds the justices will even hear the case is far from on their side. The court hears about 100-150 cases of between 7,000 and 8,000 it receives every year.

Dassey is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, second-degree sexual assault, and mutilation of a corpse. He is eligible for parole in 2048. His uncle Steven Avery is serving life without parole in Halbach’s death.

Had Dassey taken a plea deal before trial, he would either be home today or approaching release. Former Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz offered Dassey a 15-year sentence. Amid pressure from the Avery family, the teen rejected the offer and went to trial. He was found guilty on April 25, 2007.