This winter, the world became obsessed with the tale of Steven Avery, a man wrongly accused of rape and then later convicted of murder despite questionable evidence. Here’s what a Miramar criminal defense lawyer has to say about the show and the legal situations of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey.
First, it’s important to recognize that the documentary was created mainly as entertainment and the filmmakers did not, in fact, present all evidence available. While Avery seems innocent on camera, there is more evidence to point to his guilt and even his attorneys admit that they aren’t sure of his innocence. But the question of Making A Murderer isn’t whether Avery is actually guilty, but whether he should have been convicted given the evidence presented against him, some of which was certainly mishandled by the local sheriff’s department. Under the United States legal system, the prosecution is required to prove that a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and nearly everyone familiar with the case, outside of the Manitowoc sheriff’s department and district attorney’s office, believe this standard was not met in his trial.
Most of the reasons evidence in this case prove problematic are covered by the show, but it’s hard to see how the jury reached a guilty verdict on such shaky evidence. The excused juror presented in the documentary claims that seven of the jurors agreed Avery was innocent when he left the trial, yet shortly afterward, they found the defendant guilty. Later on, other jurors came forward stating that they felt pressured to vote guilty, one even saying, they “told us that they were afraid that if they held out for a mistrial that it would be easy to identify which juror had done that, and that they were fearful for their own safety.” As if that weren’t bad enough, one was the father of a deputy from the sheriff’s department and another jurors’ wife worked for the county clerk’s office, which should have been a conflict of interest given that when he was arrested, Avery was suing the sheriff’s department and county for his wrongful conviction. From Manitowoc to South Bay, defense attorneys from around the country are in agreement that this alone should entitle Avery to a retrial.
Perhaps the greatest travesty of justice in the film was that involving Brendan Dassey, a mentally-challenged teen who was convicted of being party to first-degree intentional homicide, mutilation of a corpse, and first-degree sexual assault. Dassey’s case was settled on little more than coerced confessions that the teen later recanted. In fact, his confessions were so questionable that they couldn’t even be used in the Steven Avery case. It didn’t help that Dassey was assisted not by someone with his best interests in mind, like a good defense attorney in National City would be, but instead by a public defender who was later removed from the case for misconduct.
Overall, the show brings up some very important questions about the legal system, from how often do police actually plant evidence to what can we do to protect defendants from making coerced statements to the police -especially if they are mentally handicapped minors. One thing the series makes absolutely clear is the importance of having a good lawyer on your side who always has your best interests at heart. If you have been accused of any crime, Coronado defense lawyer Peter M. Liss can help you fight the charges. Please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free initial consultation.