A Brendan Dassey Petition Wants To Change WI Laws

by Andi O'Rourke

A petition calling for juvenile justice reform in Wisconsin is one of many that have sprung up since Netflix's documentary series Making A Murder aired. This petition on behalf of Brendan Dassey is trying to change Wisconsin law so that minors don't inadvertently suffer violations of their constitutional rights while in the custody of law enforcement. The sponsors of this action, Jenny Holden and Jax West from Lisle, Illinois, want to make sure that kids and teens are treated fairly by law enforcement, no matter what they are accused of.

Currently, Wisconsin law only requires law enforcement to immediately notify a parent or guardian when a minor is brought into custody, but says nothing about having to wait until the adult arrives before law enforcement can begin to interact with the minor. Additionally, according to the authors of the petition, Wisconsin law doesn't explicitly require that a friendly adult presence — like a parent, guardian, or lawyer — be present when minors are questioned by the authorities.

The petition calls upon Wisconsin's state and federal government representatives — including Speaker Paul Ryan, Gov. Scott Walker, and both houses of the State Assembly — to enact Brendan Dassey's Law, which, ideally, would be comprised of three key provisions that the activists feel were missing from Dassey's interactions with law enforcement.

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Minors would be required to discuss their Miranda rights with a parent or guardian before being given the option of waiving them. Any custodial interrogation of a minor must require that an attorney be present before beginning. Finally, law enforcement would be required to inform a minor before an interrogation begins that they might be charged as an adult, depending on the information obtained during an interrogation.

The activists hope that enacting this law will prevent other minors from going through the same ordeal as Dassey, who was 16 years old and without a criminal record when he was questioned by Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department in connection with the shooting death of Teresa Halbach. Manitowoc County officials have denied any allegations of wrongdoing in Dassey's case.

One of the last major updates to Wisconsin juvenile justice was in 2005, when the state Supreme Court ruled that all interrogations of minors must be videotaped. At the time, the court did not adopt a per se rule that would ban all confessions made by minors under the age of 16 who didn't have the chance to consult with their parents or guardians.

As of Sunday evening, the petition has 1,540 signatures out of a goal of 2,500. Whether Walker and the Wisconsin state legislature is amenable to juvenile justice reform remains to be seen.