What Is The Center On Wrongful Convictions of Youth? Brendan Dassey Could Have A Chance At A Retrial With Its Help
Netflix's Making a Murderer has dashed the confidence of many viewers in the legitimacy of police investigations. The renewed national media attention surrounding the murder of Teresa Halbach has left many asking why then-16-year-old Brendan Dassey, nephew of Steven Avery, would have made an alleged false confession to police in the first place. Dassey is now being represented by the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, part of the Pritzker School of Law's Bluhm Law Clinic at Northwestern University, based in Chicago.
After noting the lack of resources available to children and teens, the center was established in 2008 and is one of 20 specialized legal service clinics staffed by Northwestern law students and faculty offering specialized law services in complex or cutting-edge cases. The Daily Northwestern writes the CWCY "was the first of its kind to address wrongful convictions of youth, and has developed an expertise in litigating cases of false confessions" and reports that Dassey's case, if innocent, isn't unique.
Attorneys Steven Drizin and Laura Nirider, who were featured in the Netflix series, are representing Dassey in conjunction with local Wisconsin attorney Robert Dvorak. They, along with student volunteers and staffers, are attempting to secure a separate retrial for Dassey, hoping to call into question the tactics used by detectives that, they argue, effectively coerced a confession out of a minor who had diminished capacity to discern truth from fiction under the intense pressure brought against him in the interrogation room.
By Dassey's own account in Making a Murderer, he "isn't smart." The Huffington Post reports that he has an IQ of 70, lower than the middle range of 85-115, where most of the population would fall. Drizin is quoted in The Daily Northwestern saying that he hopes "this documentary will inspire some profound changes in the way in which police interrogate youthful suspects."
Footage from Dassey's confession on Making a Murderer resulted in a surge of grassroots action across the country. The White House has even weighed in on a petition to free Avery and Dassey, but there has been increased interest in the CWCY itself. They've been flooded with so many inquiries from Making a Murderer viewers that they created an "action agenda" for those who would like to help ensure that vulnerable youth are adequately protected when dealing with law enforcement officials. Dassey is currently serving a life sentence and, barring a retrial, will be eligible for parole in 2048.