‘Making a Murderer’ Case Not Worth High Court’s Time, Wis. Says

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By Jordan S. Rubin

“Making a Murderer” documentary subject Brendan Dassey’s appeal isn’t worth the U.S. Supreme Court’s time, Wisconsin officials effectively told the justices in a May 10 filing.

Dassey is just looking for “splitless error correction,” the state said in its brief opposing Supreme Court review.

In plain English, that argument refers to the fact that the high court often takes cases to resolve differences of opinion—or “splits"—among the lower courts. Odd as it might sound, the justices don’t take cases just to fix lower court mistakes. At least in theory.

But Dassey and his supporters, including an outside brief from current and former prosecutors, argue his case warrants the justices’ attention, not just for what they perceive as injustices in his case but for the opportunity it presents to lay down a marker on how to handle juvenile confessions in the 21st century.

The 2015 Netflix documentary focused on Dassey and his uncle, Steven Avery, who were convicted of the 2005 rape, murder, and mutilation of Teresa Halbach in Wisconsin.

Dassey argues the murder confession he gave as an intellectually challenged juvenile shouldn’t have been allowed into evidence. He’s serving a life sentence.

But the strict standards of habeas corpus review in federal courts mean the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit was right to uphold the state court’s ruling that condoned his confession, Wisconsin officials said.

And even if the high court were inclined to engage in error correction, there’s no error here, the state contended.

It pushes back against Dassey’s assertion that investigators fed him the answers they wanted to hear.

“The only plausible source for his admissions was his guilty conscience, as investigators did not even suspect several key aspects of his confession, such as his rape of the victim,” the state said.

What Dassey and his supporters really want is a change in the law on juvenile interrogations based on “social science research,” it said, putting the phrase in quotes.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jordan S. Rubin in Washington at jrubin@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at rlarson@bloomberglaw.com

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