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  • Writer's pictureTracy Keogh

Wisconsin Primaries and the Wrongful Conviction of Brendan Dassey

August 14th will see the Wisconsin partisan primaries offer ballots requiring the electorate to navigate a litany of candidates across state, congressional, legislative and county primary races. Partisan primaries were implemented in 1905 as a reform measure to eliminate crossover voting, denying political power plays to a bureaucratic consensus at the time. However, the eyes of the world are sifting through the political mire with a dogged focus on the fight for the Governorship of Wisconsin.


The primaries will determine the Democratic candidate to oppose the incumbent Governor (Walker) at the Wisconsin Gubernatorial election on November 6th, 2018. Closure on Walker’s consecutive two-term executive residency will be a decisive victory for proponents of just governance, as Walker leaves a legacy stained by dark money, bad cosplay costumes and donor cartels – and over 1,400 petitions for clemency (the State stopped counting in November 2011) collecting dust.

Will the wrongful conviction of a vulnerable 16-year old cast a shadow on the ballots as Wisconsinites take to the polls this November? Will the apparent lack of political incentive that has actuated Walkers refusal to appoint executives to his defunct pardon advisory board propel his Democratic adversary to the executive office of Governor? “To err is human to forgive, divine” Walker seemingly never received Alexander Popes memo.


Walker first took the oath of office on January 3rd, 2011 and proceeded in the March to issue an executive order to establish a pardon advisory board under Article V, Section 6 of the Wisconsin Constitution. Without any appointees Walker furtively suspended pardons indefinitely later that year. Walkers office had inherited 331 applications from Governor Doyle’s administration and 681 had been filed in the short time since Walker had taken office. Documents shows that the history of clemency in Wisconsin was well established with Walker an ineffective anomaly, statistics show:

The act of clemency is a generic concept of amelioration of criminal penalties and is considered a political fear quotient for Governors - profiling why many Governors tend to grant a greater number in the final months of their tenure. Shirking his executive duties Walker has long been weighted beneath criticism from both Democrats and judicial advocates for his resolute dismissal of even the notion of granting pardons. Walker went on record as stating he didn’t believe he should inject himself into the criminal justice system and was quoted;

“To me the only people who are seeking pardons are people who have been guilty of a crime and I have a hard time undermining the actions of a jury and of a court”

Ostensibly Walker has never heard of The Innocence Project or the plight of the wrongfully convicted to place such weight on an infinitely fallible system of justice. Walker is either legislatively uneducated or ego-centric to the point of ignorance.


The rate of wrongful convictions is estimated to be anywhere up to 10% and with a prison population of 2.3 million, there may be over 230,000 people wrongfully incarcerated across the United States. Innocence Project research tells a story of 2,000 exonerations over the past 25 years – this is barely scratching the murky surface of a criminal justice system in dire need of reform. A criminal justice system that is heaving with prosecutorial misconduct, faulty eyewitness identification, false confessions, jailhouse snitches, incompetent lawyering, junk science and the guilt presumptive one-size-fits-all REID technique – which would go on to ensnare and wrongfully convict a vulnerable, highly suggestible Brendan Dassey.

The Wisconsin Constitution (Pardoning Power) Article V, Section 6 reads:

‘The governor shall have power to grant reprieves, commutations and pardons, after conviction, for all offenses, except treason and cases of impeachment, upon such conditions and with such restrictions and limitations as he may think proper, subject to such regulations as may be provided by law relative to the manner of applying for pardons. Upon conviction for treason he shall have the power to suspend the execution of the sentence until the case shall be reported to the legislature at its next meeting, when the legislature shall either pardon, or commute the sentence, direct the execution of the sentence, or grant a further reprieve. He shall annually communicate to the legislature each case of reprieve, commutation or pardon granted, stating the name of the convict, the crime of which he was convicted, the sentence and its date, and the date of the commutation, pardon or reprieve, with his reasons for granting the same.’


This executive power is an immense legislative aid in the righting of wrongful convictions at State level. Scott Walker’s denial of this right because “it’s not what I campaigned on, it’s not what I talked about” highlights an ill-informed Governor with no connection to the reality of the failings of the criminal justice system not only in the State of Wisconsin but across the wider US. Governor Walker may talk Foxconn and cheese curds, but the electorate accompanied by a global audience are discussing Wisconsin’s fractured criminal justice system, with no signs of abating. Time for Walker to leave the building. #FreeBrendanDassey

*To learn more about the Democratic candidates click here.

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