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  • Writer's pictureTracy Keogh

Brendan Dassey: 2017 a Year to Forget?

The United States National Registry of Exonerations currently lists the number of exonerations (since 1989) at 2,145, equating to just over 18,750 years stolen from American innocents. Adding today’s exoneration of Kirstin Lobato to the count, with 17 years of wrongful incarceration, one can surmise that fatigued post-conviction litigators may detect a climate of attainable vindication for their wrongfully convicted clients.

Equal Justice Under Law

As organisations including the profoundly effective Innocence Project, Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth and Philadelphia’s Juvenile Law Center prepare to propel themselves into 2018 – we will bear witness to Steven Drizin, Laura Nirider, Robert Dvorak and a litany of committed law students from Northwestern navigate Dassey vs Dittman past the watchful gaze of the ‘Contemplation of Justice’ and the ‘Authority of Law’ statues, perched heroically at the steps of the Supreme Court. A dignified structure where once upon a time Cass Gilbert majestically lured you up the forty-four white marble steps in the pursuit of justice, for Brendan Dassey a petition for certiorari heralds his call for “Equal Justice Under Law’”.

2017 in Retrospective

Retrospectively 2017, was a suffocating journey through a procedural jigsaw. February 14th oral arguments were held before a three-judge panel at the 7th Circuit Court in Chicago. With a 2-1 majority affirming Judge Duffins grant of Habeas on the 22nd of June.

Judges Williams and Rovner declared the overtly false confession as ‘the death by a thousand cuts’ thwarting Judge Hamilton’s dissent and its seemingly ill-informed analysis of the totality of the circumstances test.

Judge Hamilton’s February and September repudiation of the Supreme Court’s directive that requires the application of a totality of the circumstances framework that gives special caution to confessions of juveniles, the intellectually disabled and other defendants with vulnerable characteristics – left many a lay person and law professor despondent.

The truth has not set Brendan free - yet.

A Profound Miscarriage of Justice

In July, the State of Wisconsin petitioned for a rehearing and a petition for rehearing en banc. A rare occurrence, it was granted early August.

In September a panel of seven active, sitting judges vacated the previous panels majority decision and upheld the State courts findings in a 4-3 majority. Chief Judge Wood and Judge Rovner issued scathing dissents, with Judge Ilana Rovner stating that she viewed the majority’s decisions as a ‘profound miscarriage of justice’.

"His confession was not voluntary, and his conviction should not stand, and yet an impaired teenager has been sentenced to life in prison," she wrote in her dissent. "I view this as a profound miscarriage of justice." -Judge Rovner

Thousands fervidly agreed, the sense of outrage and disappointment from various stratum's of society including the legal profession both nationally and internationally was palpable. The words of Chief Judge Wood "Without this involuntary and highly unreliable confession, the case against Dassey was almost non-existent" gave little comfort to those of us who believe in Brendan Dassey. Mark Wiegert's coercive ‘he’s gonna go places’ rings hollow, echoing across the 11 years and counting where Brendan has sat in an 8 x 6 prison cell, waiting for the figure of justice leaning on her sheathed sword (touting a PS4) and staring down the faces of evil to arrive.

Juvenile Justice Jurisprudence

Supreme Court juvenile justice jurisprudence has long examined how juveniles are treated within the justice system, to date concerned with the waiver of rights, culpability and punishments. With major jurisprudence established from cases such as: In re Gault, Roper v Simmons, Miller v Alabama and J.D.B v North Carolina. We ask that Dassey v Dittman take its rightful place among these landmark decisions. Affirming as Steven Drizin and Laura Nirider quoted, "Today's ruling contravenes a fundamental and time-honored position of the United States Supreme Court: interrogation tactics that may not be coercive when applied to adults are coercive when applied to children and the mentally impaired”.

We seek vindication for Brendan in 2018, we implore the legal community and all organisations concerned with the constitutional and human rights of juveniles to flood the Supreme Court with Amicus briefs. Bend that arc team Dassey.

"Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals". - Dr.Martin Luther King

Free Brendan Dassey.

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