Appeals court rules for State, says Dassey's confession was not coerced

Published: Dec. 8, 2017 at 3:05 PM CST
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Brendan Dassey is not getting out of prison anytime soon. In a split 4-3 ruling Friday, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals denied his appeal, refuting a lower court ruling that said Dassey's confession was coerced.

Fifteen months ago a federal court in Milwaukee overturned Dassey's conviction that he murdered Teresa Halbach in 2005 with his uncle Steven Avery.

Dassey was 16 when Halbach was killed. Court records show he also had an IQ of 74 and was taking special education classes in high school.

U.S. Magistrate Judge William Duffin said repeated false promises by detectives, when considered with other factors like Dassey's age, intellectual deficits and the absence of a supportive adult, led him to determine that Dassey's confession was involuntary under the U.S. Constitution.

The appellate court addresses these issues, agreeing those "factors would tend to support a finding that Dassey's confession was not voluntary."

But the majority ruling points to other factors that the confession was voluntary: Speaking with investigators freely, understanding the Miranda warnings, having his mother's consent.

"Dassey provided many of the most damning details himself in response to open-ended questions. On a number of occasions he resisted the interrogators' strong suggestions on particular details."

While there are times during the police interview Dassey seems to be guessing what he thinks detectives want to hear, the ruling says, there are other times he holds firm, such as knowing Halbach didn't have a tattoo on her stomach when police tested his suggestibility by saying she did.

The majority ruling states, "Whether Dassey's confession was voluntary or not is measured against a general standard that takes into account the totality of the circumstances."

The dissenting opinion takes 30 pages of the 70-page ruling.

In her dissent, Judge Ann Claire Williams writes in part, "No reasonable state court, knowing what we now know about coercive interrogation techniques and viewing Dassey's interrogation in light of his age, intellectual deficits, and manipulability, could possibly have concluded that Dassey's confession was voluntarily given.... His confession was not voluntary and his conviction should not stand, and yet an impaired teenager has been sentenced to life in prison. I view this as a profound miscarriage of justice."

In a statement to Action 2 News, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel wrote, "I’m gratified that the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of habeas. Today’s decision is a testament to the talent of the attorneys at the Wisconsin Department of Justice who have worked tirelessly to deliver justice for the family and friends of Teresa Halbach over the last decade."

Laura Nirider and Steven Drizin of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth were on Dassey's defense team for his appeals. Nirider gave this statement to Action 2 News for both of them:

Trial lawyer Jerome Buting tweeted "The illusion of justice continues with the horrific decision of 4 judges."

Kathleen Zellner, who is Avery's attorney in his latest appeal, tweeted Friday afternoon: "Seventh Circuit rules against Brendan Dassey. No one promised this would be easy." She added the hashtag #Onward.

Dassey is currently serving his sentence at Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage.