Seventh Circuit Judge Ilana Rovner’s Opinion on the Brendan Dassey Confession and his Subsequent Conviction

Emmy-winning Netflix Series ‘Making a Murderer’ has continued to generate controversy since its premiere in December of 2015. One of the series’ primary focuses, Brendan Dassey, was sentenced to life in prison for the murder and sexual assault of photographer Teresa Halbach in 2007. Since then, public awareness and scrutiny of unethical interview techniques used by police officials has come to the forefront. Dassey was only 16 at the time of his confession, and Rovner’s Opinion asserts that authorities took advantage of Dassey’s youth and cognitive disabilities in order to coerce him into a confession. During the interview process, Dassey was fed leading questions, and interviewed on four separate occasions without the presence of a legal guardian or legal aid. Investigators were said to have discouraged Dassey’s mother, Barbara Janda, from being present during the interviews. Dassey ultimately confessed to the murder of Halbach on March 1, 2006, one year after murder was said to have taken place.

Dassey, now 27 years old, is currently incarcerated at Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin, serving a life sentence with eligibility for parole in 2048. Oral arguments for the “en-banc” re-hearing will be heard on September 26, 2017 in Chicago, IL. An en banc review involves the entire panel of judges rather than just the panel who made the initial ruling. This rehearing has sparked much discussion. In Rovner’s Opinion, Dassey’s age at the time of the confession and the absence of a parent or guardian should render the confession inadmissible. Rovner states “Courts must pay close attention to voluntariness when manipulative interrogation techniques are used, particularly on the young and intellectually challenged.”

Today, Dassey asserts his innocence and claims to have been manipulated and pressured by police officials during the time of the investigation. Dassey’s case is not exceptional. Many other cases of children, teenagers, and young adults with cognitive impairments have been scrutinized over the years. After the success of Making a Murderer, Netflix premiered another crime docuseries, The Confession Tapes, about coerced confessions, like Dassey’s case.

For more information on Brendan Dassey’s case and conviction, check out the Netflix docuseries. You can also read Judge Rovner’s full Opinion below. 


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