The Internet is paying close attention to everything surrounding the case of accused murderers Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, two of the subjects of Netflix's true crime docu-series Making a Murderer. And one of Brendan's new lawyers, Steven Drizin, is a particularly interesting figure, and one who's had a long career outside of the Dassey/Avery case. Drizin, along with a team, is currently working to overturn Dassey's conviction. He's a very accomplished lawyer, and he's also an author, professor, and a passionate advocate for social justice and reform, particularly in regard to false and coerced confessions. Dassey's confession to the murder of Teresa Halbech, which incriminated both Dassey and Avery, his uncle, was obtained without a lawyer or parent present, and thus the case immediately attracted Drizin's attention.
He's an interesting man and his expertise in the case is a great jumping off point for discussion about how the American legal system may be failing the population, particularly young people and/or those with learning disabilities, like Dassey. After getting to know Drizin's bona fides, I'm confident that Dassey is finally in good hands, and hopefully ones that are able to help him.
He's A Professor At Northwestern
Any law students at Northwestern University have the chance to potentially take classes with Professor Drizin, who is a Clinical Professor of Law and Assistant Dean currently, according to his university bio. He's also worked through Northwestern's law school clinics to push through many of his other reforms. And it's his alma mater — he received his law degree from Northwestern in 1986.
He's An Expert In False Confessions
Drizin is an expert who has been working for decades to stop police from obtaining false confessions. According to his Northwestern University biography, Drizin was the Legal Director of the Bluhm Legal Clinic's Center on Wrongful Convictions for eight years, from 2005 through 2013.
He's Helped Create Juvenile Law Reform
Drizin fought successfully to have the juvenile death penalty ruled unconstitutional in 2003 — now, no minors can be sent to death row.
He Affected Brendan's Case Back In 2007
Drizin did not represent Brendan in his original trial — but he did have a major influence on the case. In the words of Drizin's fellow lawyer Laura Nirider to Esquire, "Drizin, with whom I work, had been involved in helping Wisconsin enact a law requiring all interrogations of juveniles be videotaped. And Dassey's was one of the first videotaped interrogations to come out after that law went into effect." That tape is one of the reasons why Making a Murderer viewers are disturbed that Avery and Dassey were convicted. The Manitowoc police department denies any wrongdoing and are not under investigation for any crime.
He's Still Speaking Out
He's still working as both a professor and an outspoken critic of the criminal justice system. Curious what to do with the fury prompted by the alleged injustices in Making a Murderer? Well, check out his recent article in The Huffington Post, where he again makes a clear point about how false confessions should not be allowed to lead to convictions. Or you could check out his Twitter to hear hopeful stories of clients who were freed after years because of efforts of Drizin and his contemporaries, and infuriating tales of other people who were railroaded into false confessions.
He Is Hopeful Things Can Change
Drizin and the rest of Dassey's legal team are still fighting for Dassey, hoping that the confession they believe to be false to be the source for a reopening of Dasesy's case. According to Nirider's Esquire interview, "I think the best ruling that we could hope for coming out of federal court would be an order that Brendan should be retried. And then it would be an open question as to whether the state would actually proceed with that retrial."
And He's An Author
If Drizin's commitment to reform impresses you, then you can check out his book, True Stories of False Confessions. Yes, in between his legal work, teaching, advocating for young people and the intellectually disabled, Drizin also edited a collection of other stories of false confessions like Dassey's.
Images: Leigh Bienen/Youtube; Netflix