Please Pass Brendan Dassey Juvenile Interrogation Protection Law In Wisconsin
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Brendan Dassey was wrongfully convicted of murder in the state of Wisconsin in 2007, on the basis of a coerced false confession to the rape and murder of Teresa Halbach.
Please ask the state of Wisconsin to enact new legislation in order to prevent other minors from suffering the same fate as Brendan.
Brendan’s case highlights the need for the enactment of legislation that would require that an attorney be present during a custodial interrogation of a minor.
There is no evidence whatsoever to support Brendan’s conviction, and physical evidence flatly contradicts the statements he gave to his interrogators. At the time he confessed, Brendan was only 16 years old. Brendan spent his childhood struggling with a learning disability. At the time of his interrogation, he had an IQ of about 70. He had no criminal record, and he was not a trouble maker. Police initially turned their attention to him because he was a defense witness for his uncle, Steven Avery, who at the time had been accused of murdering Halbach.
The Netflix series “Making a Murderer" brought renewed attention to Brendan’s case. The ongoing series details the murder of Teresa Halbach and the controversy surrounding her death.
Video clips of Brendan’s interrogation, which are presented in the Netflix series, have left many viewers wondering how Brendan’s confession was ever deemed admissible at trial.
The video clips presented in the series, focus on Brendan’s final interrogation before his arrest. That interrogation session was the fourth time Brendan had been interrogated without a parent or an attorney present, all within the span of 48 hours. Audio and video recordings show how interrogators quickly brought Brendan under their control. Video footage shows that Brendan was willing to go along with any storyline they suggested.
Working to build a narrative that Brendan was with his uncle Steven Avery at the time of the murder, investigators told Brendan that Steven had done something to the victim’s head, and asked him what it was. Brendan responded that Steven had cut her hair. No matter how many times the interrogators asked what else Steven had done to the victim’s head, they drew a blank from Brendan. Finally, they became frustrated and told Brendan that Halbach had been shot in the head, at which point he agreed.
When the case went to trial, the jury was led to believe that Brendan told police during questioning that Halbach had been shot in the head. Just like that, unreliable information obtained from an improper interrogation of a juvenile was presented as factual damning evidence in court.
The head wound evidence is just one example to show how police were able to manipulate a juvenile into providing unreliable information. In fact, the entire narrative which resulted from Brendan’s interrogation makes no sense at all.
Brendan recanted his confession the moment he was out of reach of his interrogators.
In the Netflix series, Brendan is asked by his mother why he told the police that he was involved. Brendan responded: “They got to my head.” Brendan's honest response showed clearly that he was wrongfully pressured by police to provide false information. Brendan was not capable at the time of dealing with the overwhelming stress which was put on him by his interrogators.
Please view Brendan’s interrogation videos. The videos clearly show that two seasoned interrogators manipulated Brendan into providing false information.
The story that Brendan provided to the police just doesn’t add up. According to Brendan’s confession, he and Steven raped and repeatedly stabbed Halbach in Steven’s bedroom, while she was chained to a bed. Forensic tests, however, revealed no trace of the victim’s blood, fingerprints, or DNA in Steven’s room, or, for that matter, anywhere at all in his residence. Nor was any physical trace of Brendan’s presence found in the room or in Steven’s residence. Police photos show that the premises were undisturbed except for ordinary clutter. Not one scrap of physical evidence suggested that a bloody assault had taken place there.
Brendan was gullible and easily bullied into giving false information. He agreed to an impossible murder scenario that simply could not have happened. If Brendan had an attorney with him during his interrogations; this completely unreliable narrative would have never developed in the first place.
According to the Bluhm Legal Clinic: “researchers have concluded that most youth – even those who might be considered "street-smart" – simply do not understand their Miranda rights to counsel and to remain silent. Accordingly, these children do not exercise those essential rights and are thus left alone during police interrogation, without the assistance of counsel, a friendly adult, or their parents. Too often, the child's resulting statement is involuntary or unreliable.”
The United States Supreme Court describes a custodial interrogation as an interrogation where: "a reasonable person would have felt he or she was not at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave." Even if a minor has the legal right to get up and walk out, the vast majority of minors would have no idea that they had that option. My son certainly did not. Therefore, it is reasonable to view any interrogation of a minor as a custodial interrogation.
For these reasons, new legislation should impose the following safeguards:
- Require that an attorney be present during any custodial interrogation of a minor. This should be viewed as a nonwaivable right.
- Require law enforcement to inform a minor before an interrogation begins that he or she could be charged as an adult based on information obtained during an interrogation.
Wisconsin law currently falls short, as it only requires law enforcement to immediately attempt to notify the child’s parent or guardian. The state does not specify whether juveniles have the right to the presence of an attorney or a parent during questioning. Thankfully, in 2005, the Wisconsin Supreme Court exercised its supervisory power to require that all custodial interrogations of juveniles be recorded.
The recording of Brendan's interrogation provides a clear cut example of why minors need further protection. The Bluhm Legal Clinic has modeled legislation that can be used as a guideline for legislators looking to improve the system. Their recommendations can be viewed here: http://www.law.northwestern.edu/legalclinic/wrongfulconvictionsyouth/resources/legislation/
The state of Wisconsin made a promising move in the right direction by recognizing the need for recorded interrogations. They now need to further their efforts by enacting legislation to protect minors during interrogations.
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