Brendan Dassey of Netflix fame asked the Supreme Court to toss out a confession pivotal to his 2007 conviction for the murder of Teresa Halbach, arguing police pressured him to admit to the crime.
Dassey, 28, has assembled a formidable legal team which argues that the high court must correct the persistent misapplication of rules regarding coerced confessions. The team includes Seth Waxman, a leading Supreme Court practitioner who served as solicitor general under former President Bill Clinton.
Dassey’s uncle, Steven Avery, was the subject of the hit Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer.” Originally convicted of the 1985 sexual assault of Penny Ann Beernsten, Avery was exonerated after DNA evidence implicated a different individual. Approximately two years after his release, Avery and his nephew, Dassey, were arrested and convicted for Halbach’s murder. Her charred remains were found by police in the Avery family salvage yard. Both men were sentenced to a life term in prison.
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Dassey was a teenager at the time of the murder and also has cognitive disabilities. His confession to the crime was the primary evidence supporting his prosecution. Video of the interrogation shows police using aggressive tactics and false promises to secure his gradual acquiescence.
In their petition to the justices, Dassey’s lawyers say the courts are deeply confused as to how to analyze dubious interrogations, particularly because the relevant precedents are decades old. Therefore, they say, the high court’s review will bring order to a complicated area and prevent future miscarriages of justice.
“[Review] is warranted here not only to reaffirm this Court’s holdings (and lower courts’ obligation to follow them), but also to provide guidance on how to apply those holdings so as to minimize false confessions— which not only lead to innocent people being jailed but also leave the perpetrators free to victimize others,” the petition reads.
A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals initially sided with Dassey, though the decision was overturned by the full court, which voted four to three to uphold his conviction.
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