877 F.3d 297 (7th Cir. 2017), 16-3397, Dassey v. Dittmann

Docket Nº:16-3397
Citation:877 F.3d 297
Opinion Judge:Hamilton, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:Brendan DASSEY, Petitioner-Appellee, v. Michael A. DITTMANN, Respondent-Appellant.
Attorney:Laura Nirider, Attorney, Steven A. Drizin, Northwestern University School of Law, Chicago, IL, Robert J. Dvorak, Attorney, Halling & Cayo, S.C., Milwaukee, WI, for Petitioner-Appellee. Luke N. Berg, Deputy Solicitor General, Daniel P. Lennington, Attorney, Jacob J. Wittwer, Attorney, Office of th...
Judge Panel:Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Easterbrook, Kanne, Rovner, Williams, Sykes, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges. Wood, Chief Judge, and Rovner and Williams, Circuit Judges, dissenting. Rovner, Circuit Judge, and Wood, Chief Judge, and Williams, Circuit Judge, dissenting.
Case Date:December 08, 2017
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
SUMMARY

Halbach disappeared in 2005. Her family contacted police. Officers focused on Avery Auto Salvage in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, the last place she was known to have visited. Avery, who lived on the property, had called Auto Trader magazine, for whom Halbach worked, to request that she photograph a minivan that he wished to sell. The police suspected that Avery’s 16‐year‐old nephew, Dassey, who also... (see full summary)

 
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877 F.3d 297 (7th Cir. 2017)

Brendan DASSEY, Petitioner-Appellee,

v.

Michael A. DITTMANN, Respondent-Appellant.

No. 16-3397

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

December 8, 2017

Argued September 26, 2017

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, No. 14-cv-1310— William E. Duffin, Magistrate Judge .

Laura Nirider, Attorney, Steven A. Drizin, Northwestern University School of Law, Chicago, IL, Robert J. Dvorak, Attorney, Halling & Cayo, S.C., Milwaukee, WI, for Petitioner-Appellee.

Luke N. Berg, Deputy Solicitor General, Daniel P. Lennington, Attorney, Jacob J. Wittwer, Attorney, Office of the Attorney General, Wisconsin Department of Justice, Madison, WI, Misha Tseytlin, Attorney, Ryan J. Walsh, Attorney, Kevin Michael LeRoy, Attorney, Office of the Solicitor General, Wisconsin Department of Justice, Madison, WI, for Respondent-Appellant.

Marsha L. Levick, Attorney, Juvenile Law Center, Philadelphia, PA, for Amicus Curiaes.

Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Easterbrook, Kanne, Rovner, Williams, Sykes, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.[*]

OPINION

Hamilton, Circuit Judge.

Petitioner Brendan Dassey confessed on videotape to participating in the 2005 rape and murder of Teresa Halbach and the mutilation of her corpse. The Wisconsin state courts upheld Dassey's convictions

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for these crimes, finding that his confession was voluntary and could be used against him. The principal issue in this habeas corpus appeal is whether that finding was based on an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent or an unreasonable view of the facts. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

Whether Dassey's confession was voluntary or not is measured against a general standard that takes into account the totality of the circumstances. See Withrow v. Williams, 507 U.S. 680, 693-94, 113 S.Ct. 1745, 123 L.Ed.2d 407 (1993); Gallegos v. Colorado, 370 U.S. 49, 55, 82 S.Ct. 1209, 8 L.Ed.2d 325 (1962); see also Fare v. Michael C., 442 U.S. 707, 727, 99 S.Ct. 2560, 61 L.Ed.2d 197 (1979) (admissibility of juvenile confession). Some factors would tend to support a finding that Dassey's confession was not voluntary: his youth, his limited intellectual ability, some suggestions by the interrogators, their broad assurances to a vulnerable suspect that honesty would produce leniency, and inconsistencies in Dassey's confession. Many other factors, however, point toward a finding that it was voluntary. Dassey spoke with the interrogators freely, after receiving and understanding Miranda warnings, and with his mother's consent. The interrogation took place in a comfortable setting, without any physical coercion or intimidation, without even raised voices, and over a relatively brief time. Dassey provided many of the most damning details himself in response to open-ended questions. On a number of occasions he resisted the interrogators' strong suggestions on particular details. Also, the investigators made no specific promises of leniency.

After the state courts found the confession voluntary, a federal district court and a divided panel of this court found that the state courts' decision was unreasonable and that Dassey was entitled to a writ of habeas corpus. We granted en banc review to consider the application of the deferential standards of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) and the implications of the panel decision for interrogations of juvenile suspects. The state courts' finding that Dassey's confession was voluntary was not beyond fair debate, but we conclude it was reasonable. We reverse the grant of Dassey's petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

Part I provides an overview of the applicable law. Part II sets forth the relevant facts about Teresa Halbach's murder, Dassey's confession, and the court proceedings. Part III applies the law to the relevant facts, keeping in mind the deference we must give under § 2254(d) to state court decisions as to which reasonable judges might differ.

I. The Applicable Law

We first discuss our standard of review under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) and then describe the Supreme Court's clearly established law for when a confession, particularly a confession by a sixteen-year-old like Dassey, is deemed voluntary and admissible.

A. Deference Under AEDPA

In considering habeas corpus petitions challenging state court convictions, " our review is governed (and greatly limited) by" AEDPA. Hicks v. Hepp, 871 F.3d 513, 524 (7th Cir. 2017) (citation omitted). The standards in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) were designed to " prevent federal habeas ‘ retrials' and to ensure that state-court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under law." Id., quoting Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693, 122 S.Ct. 1843, 152 L.Ed.2d 914 (2002). Section 2254(d) provides that a state court conviction cannot be overturned unless the state courts' adjudication of a federal claim on the merits:

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(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or

(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

The decision federal courts look to is the " last reasoned state-court decision" to decide the merits of the case, even if the state's supreme court then denied discretionary review. Johnson v. Williams, 568 U.S. 289, 133 S.Ct. 1088, 1094 n.1, 185 L.Ed.2d 105 (2013). In this case, we look to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision that Dassey's confession was voluntary.[1]

The standard for legal errors under § 2254(d)(1) was meant to be difficult to satisfy. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102, 131 S.Ct. 770, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011). The issue is not whether federal judges agree with the state court decision or even whether the state court decision was correct. The issue is whether the decision was unreasonably wrong under an objective standard. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 410-11, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000) (majority opinion of O'Connor, J.). Put another way, we ask whether the state court decision " was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Richter, 562 U.S. at 103, 131 S.Ct. 770. The existing law that applies is limited to that of the Supreme Court of the United States, which has instructed the lower federal courts to uphold a state court conviction unless the record " cannot, under any reasonable interpretation of the [Court's] controlling legal standard, support a certain ruling." Panetti v. Quarterman, 551 U.S. 930, 953, 127 S.Ct. 2842, 168 L.Ed.2d 662 (2007). Even if we were to consider the approach in past Supreme Court decisions outmoded, as the dissents suggest, a state court's decision consistent with the Supreme Court's approach could not be unreasonable under AEDPA.

As a result, federal habeas relief from state convictions is rare. It is reserved for those relatively uncommon cases in which state courts veer well outside the channels of reasonable decision-making about federal constitutional claims. AEDPA deference is not conclusive, however. Where the record shows that state courts have strayed from clearly established federal law, we can and do grant relief. E.g., Richardson v. Griffin, 866 F.3d 836 (7th Cir. 2017); Jones v. Calloway, 842 F.3d 454 (7th Cir. 2016); McManus v. Neal, 779 F.3d 634 (7th Cir. 2015); Shaw v. Wilson, 721 F.3d 908 (7th Cir. 2013); Harris v. Thompson, 698 F.3d 609 (7th Cir. 2012); Jones v. Basinger, 635 F.3d 1030 (7th Cir. 2011).

Review of state court factual findings under AEDPA is similarly deferential. Under § 2254(d)(2), federal courts cannot declare " state-court factual determinations ... unreasonable merely because

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[we] would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance." Brumfield v. Cain, __ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 2269, 2277, 192 L.Ed.2d 356 (2015) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). AEDPA does not permit federal courts to " supersede the trial court's ... determination" if a review of the record shows only that " [r]easonable minds ... might disagree about the finding in question." Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted). But again, " deference does not imply abandonment or abdication of judicial review, and does not by definition preclude relief." Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted).

B. The Law of Confessions

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment forbids the admission of an involuntary confession in evidence in...

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