Brendan Dassey, the “Making a Murder” subject whose conviction was overturned by a federal judge, could sue police or even his own lawyer for millions of dollars, legal experts say. But winning won’t be easy.
“He could sue his lawyer for putting him in the hands of his investigators, who just ripped him a new one,” Steve Cron, a veteran criminal defense attorney and Pepperdine University law professor, told TheWrap. He said Len Kachinsky, Dassey’s court appointed lawyer, had committed what amounted to “malpractice.”
Asked how much Dassey could stand to make should he sue, Cron said, “What is spending 10 years in prison worth? It could be hundreds of thousands of dollars, possibly millions.”
On Friday, federal Judge William E. Duffin found that Dassey’s imprisonment was unlawful because his confession to the murder of Teresa Halbach was involuntary.
“The investigators repeatedly claimed to already know what happened on October 31 and assured Dassey that he had nothing to worry about,” wrote Duffin in his decision. “These repeated false promises, when considered in conjunction with all relevant factors, most especially Dassey’s age, intellectual deficits, and the absence of a supportive adult, rendered Dassey’s confession involuntary under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.”
While Friday’s court decision to throw out his confession is certainly good news for Dassey, attorneys say it’s way too early to celebrate.
“The court didn’t say there was no basis for prosecution,” former sex crimes prosecutor and criminal litigator Steve Meister told TheWrap. “The court threw out the confession. Now it’s up to the state to decide whether or not it has enough evidence to retry.”
Criminal defense attorney Mark McBride told TheWrap that if Dassey was his client, he would sue the investigators in the case for $10 million — a million for each year Dassey spent in prison. Dassey was convicted in 2007.
“The first thing I’d be doing right now is put pressure on the state to let Dassey out on bail pending the state’s decision,” McBride said. ” He said suing would come much later, but noted that without the confession, the state’s case would be much weaker.
In his decision, Duffin wrote that Kachinsky’s “misconduct” was “indefensible.”
“Making a Murderer” suggested that Kachinsky cut a deal with prosecutors that put his client behind bars instead of fighting to prove his innocence.
“I watched the series and, as a lawyer who has been practicing criminal defense for 40 years, I was appalled,” Cron said, adding, “He sold out his client.”
Dassey, now 26, was convicted in the murder Teresa Halbach, along with his uncle Steven Avery. He was sentenced to life in prison.
But experts say that just because Dassey’s confession was deemed inadmissible, it may not deter prosecutors from retrying the case, weak as it may be.
“It’s a murder,” he said. “You don’t let a murder go just because of public opinion. The facts of the case are going to be the key in determining whether the state can prosecute him without a confession. The question is, is there enough evidence to convict without a confession. And if there is, they’ll retry him.”
But Meister said that even if the state dismissed the case, Dassey may not recover any money.
“Just because the prosecution dismissed the charge doesn’t mean the original charges were brought in bad faith,” he said.
McBride added that it’s extremely tough to win these types of cases.
“It’s possible but it’s not easy, unfortunately,” he said. “Investigators have a qualified immunity, which means you have to prove they went out off the reservation and knowingly and purposefully broke the rules.”
Asked about Dassey’s chances of winning a civil case and actually earning enough money to re-start his life, McBride said “50, maybe 60 percent.”