Defending Reasonable Police Tactics for Questioning Juvenile Suspects
Dassey v. Dittman
Brendan Dassey confessed to helping his uncle, Steven Avery, brutally rape, murder, and mutilate Teresa Halbach. Officers had given Dassey the Miranda warnings prior to questioning and, because he was sixteen years old at the time, the option of having his mother present during questioning (both he and his mother separately declined). They made sure he was comfortable, offered him food and drink, and asked him open-ended questions. Dassey nevertheless sought to have his detailed confession suppressed at his trial, alleging it was coerced. The trial court, which took into account the officers’ actions as well as all other relevant factors including Dassey’s age and intelligence, admitted the confession into evidence.
Dassey’s subsequent conviction by a Wisconsin jury was upheld by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. Although Dassey’s petition for writ of habeas corpus was granted in federal district court, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals granted an emergency stay of the ruling while the State’s appeal is litigated. The State argues that, as a matter of law, a “coerced” confession is one that is the product of extreme police misconduct, which simply did not occur here, and that in any event, Federal law is clear that habeas petitions can only be granted when state courts make clear legal or factual errors, which the Wisconsin courts did not in Dassey's case.
Status: The full Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the arguments made by the Solicitor General's office and reversed the grant of the writ of habeas corpus. Dassey's petition for writ of certiorari is pending before the Supreme Court of the United States.