Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth
Northwestern Pritzker
School of Law
375 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611-3069
312.503.8576 phone


Change Lives | Change the System

Founded by Steve Drizin and directed by Laura Nirider, the CWCY is a nonprofit legal clinic that represents children and teenagers who have been convicted of crimes they didn’t commit. Housing some of the world’s leading experts on interrogations and confessions, the CWCY and its sister project, the Center on Wrongful Convictions, have exonerated more than 50 individuals. Visit our Making a Murderer page to learn more about the case of our client Brendan Dassey and the work we can do together with you to change lives and change the system. 

Help the CWCY Today!

The CWCY spearheads national efforts to drive criminal justice reforms that will prevent children from making unreliable statements and coerced statements during policy interrogations. Unfortunately, false confessions of youth are not anomalies and there are hundreds of kids who need our help. In order to keep doing this work, we need your continued support. How can you help? Please consider supporting our organization today with a donation. 

CWCY Spotlight

December 20, 2019

Dassey Team Response to Pardon Board Clemency Denial (pdf)

October 2, 2019

Today, we have filed a clemency petition on behalf of Brendan Dassey with the Office of Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers. The petition asks Governor Evers to consider both a pardon, which would result in Brendan’s immediate release and the restoration of some of his legal rights, and a commutation, which could result in his immediate release or shorten his sentence and would leave the convictions intact. Grounds for clemency include both Brendan’s innocence and the extreme length of his sentence.

In 2007, special education student Brendan Dassey was sentenced to life in prison based on a videotaped confession he gave at age 16 that is now widely understood to be false. Incarcerated since age 16, Brendan will turn 30 years old on October 19, 2019. He is not eligible for parole until 2048, at which time he will be 59 years old. His clemency petition is supported by a broad local and national coalition that includes disability experts, law enforcement authorities, victim advocates, and educators. Interested people may sign a petition in support of Brendan at

Brendan Dassey Petition for Executive Clemency (pdf)

May 25, 2018

On Friday, our team filed Brendan Dassey's reply brief before the United States Supreme Court. This concludes briefing before the High Court; we now await a decision. Many thanks to WilmerHale for its unwavering dedication to Brendan and his case.

Dassey v. Dittmann reply brief (pdf)

May 16, 2018

Terrill Swift spent fifteen years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The work of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth gave him his life back.

March 27, 2018

We are deeply grateful for the voices of six eminent amicus curiae, each of whom have filed briefs before the Supreme Court urging it to take Brendan’s case. The amicus briefs have been filed by:

(1) the nation’s leading mental health authorities (the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, and related professional organizations)

(2) a large group of respected and, in many cases, high-ranking current and former prosecutors

(3) the nation’s second-largest company that trains police how to interrogate juveniles

(4) the Innocence Network (an amalgamation of the Innocence Projects around the country) and fifteen individuals who falsely confessed to murder as teens, were wrongly convicted, and spent years in prison before being exonerated

(5) a dozen of the nation’s leading juvenile law experts, including the Juvenile Law Center

(6) a group of the country’s most renowned criminal law professors

These organizations, moreover, are represented by some of the nation’s leading Supreme Court advocates at Covington, Arnold & Porter, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, Bartlit Beck, and Jenner & Block. Taken together, these six amicus briefs represent the cutting edge of legal and psychological knowledge about false confessions, particularly false confessions from juveniles and the intellectually impaired.

February 20, 2018

Today, Brendan Dassey's legal team filed a petition for a writ of certiorari before the United States Supreme Court, asking the high Court to agree to hear Brendan's appeal. Lending formidable experience and firepower to our team, former Solicitor General of the United States Seth Waxman – now co-chair of the Appellate and Supreme Court litigation practice group at WilmerHale – has joined us in representing Brendan.

Read press statement (pdf)
Read petition for a writ of certiorari (pdf)

February 7, 2018

Charles Johnson spent twenty years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The work of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth gave him his life back.

December 8, 2017

We are profoundly disappointed by the decision of four judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to reverse two prior decisions and deny relief to Brendan Dassey. Like many around the globe, we share the view of the three judges who wrote, in dissent, that today’s ruling represents a “profound miscarriage of justice.” We intend to continue pursuing relief for Brendan, including through a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court. 

Today’s ruling contravenes a fundamental and time-honored position of the United States Supreme Court: interrogation tactics that may not be coercive when applied to adults are coercive when applied to children and the mentally impaired. Indeed, when such tactics are applied to vulnerable populations, the risk of false confession grows intolerably. Unfortunately, this time-worn lesson was ignored today by four judges in the case of Brendan Dassey. We at the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth are committed to continuing to fight on behalf of Brendan and others like him to prevent future miscarriages of justice. 

 - Laura Nirider and Steven Drizin

October 4, 2017

John Horton EXONERATED today!  

John Horton, a longtime client of CWCY and Exoneration Project, was finally exonerated today, after serving more than twenty-three years in prison. The prosecution dropped all charges relating to a 1993 murder and armed robbery, announcing: “I do not have a reasonable belief this charge can be sustained beyond a reasonable doubt.” 

In 1993, seventeen-year-old John falsely confessed to an armed robbery and murder that occurred at a McDonald’s restaurant on Charles Street in Rockford, Illinois. His cousin later admitted that he committed the crime without John’s involvement and provided a detailed and corroborated account of the crime. Horton told reporters today that his experiences show detectives should treat youth differently when questioning them in connection with a crime. 

John Horton's first mealAs reported in the Rockford Register Star: “All of this began with a false confession,” said Steven Drizin. “When you question teenagers ... as if they were adults, you greatly run the risk of false confessions. This is not just a Chicago problem. It’s a Rockford problem now.”

See John here (on the left) eating his first meal as a free man with a cleared name. Also pictured is Steve Drizin and John’s close friend from prison, fellow CWCY client Charles Johnson, who was also exonerated in early 2017!

Read more about John and his long fight for justice:

June 28, 2017

Today, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit denied our motion to lift the stay of Judge Duffin's order releasing Brendan. As this process continues to play out, we ask you to refrain from contacting the Court or the Wisconsin Attorney General's office.

June 22, 2017

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld the district court’s August 2016 decision granting Brendan Dassey’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Brendan has sought justice for more than a decade; and today, we find ourselves a significant step closer to achieving that justice. Read our full statement and the majority opinion

April 4, 2017

Update on Dassey case: As we wait and watch for a ruling, we would like to thank all of you for your continued support and solidarity. In response to those who have asked how best to help Brendan, we urge you to keep writing him letters and notes at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin. Your messages of outreach and friendship sustain him and give him hope every day.

February 14, 2017

As we await a decision from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, we'd like to say a big thank you to all of Brendan's supporters who traveled from the four corners of the globe to be present at today's argument. And a special thank you, too, to those who have sent us tokens of their esteem and support over the past few weeks. It means the world to the entire team.

November 17, 2016

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Brendan Dassey must stay in prison until his appeal is resolved. We are disappointed more than words can say. The fight goes on.

We ask that you continue to refrain from contacting the Court or the Attorney General of Wisconsin.

November 16, 2016

Brendan's team is still unable to respond to media inquiries at present but will take steps to answer those inquiries at an appropriate time. Please continue to visit for updates.

November 14, 2016

Today, the District Court granted Brendan Dassey’s motion for release on bond. We are in the process of making arrangements for his release and hope that Brendan will be reunited with his family by Thanksgiving, if not sooner. We urge everyone to respect Brendan’s privacy during this time of transition.

As we give thanks this holiday season for family and friends, our food will taste all the sweeter because we know that for the first time in ten years, Brendan will be celebrating in freedom with his family, too.

October 12, 2016

The wheels of justice grind slowly, but make no mistake: grind they do. We offer our sincerest congratulations to John Horton, client of the Exoneration Project and the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, on today’s opinion from the Illinois Court of Appeals granting him a new trial.  In 1993, seventeen-year-old John falsely confessed to an armed robbery and murder that occurred at a McDonald’s restaurant on Charles Street in Rockford, Illinois. His cousin later admitted that he committed the crime without John’s involvement and provided a detailed and corroborated account of the crime. 

The Court ruled that John was entitled to a new trial because prosecutors had violated his due process rights by not disclosing exculpatory evidence, although a special concurrence penned by one of the Justices added that this case was riddled with “outrageous errors and missteps” and that John has “significant” evidence of actual innocence.

Read the opinion (pdf)

September 14, 2016

On September 14, 2016, we filed a motion asking the Court to release Brendan on bond during the State of Wisconsin's appeal. We will not be publicly commenting on this motion at this time. As in the past, we ask Brendan's supporters to refrain from contacting the judge or prosecutors about this motion. As always, Brendan, his family, and his attorneys remain grateful for your support.

September 9, 2016

In response to the State of Wisconsin's decision to file an appeal in Dassey case:

"We are disappointed in the State's decision to prolong Brendan's case by seeking an appeal. We look forward to continuing to defend his rights in court. Like Brendan, we remain grateful to his many supporters for their continued loyalty and strength."

August 23, 2016

From the National Juvenile Defender Center

On August 22, the governor of Illinois signed SB 2370, which requires that children under fifteen be represented by lawyers during custodial interrogations for homicide and sex offenses. Previously, only children under thirteen were afforded this right. The bill also presumes that any interrogation of a child under age eighteen in any felony and some misdemeanor cases is inadmissible in court if it is not electronically recorded. In addition, the bill includes a modified version of the Miranda warning for anyone under 18. This bill will take effect January 1, 2017. Prior to the Governor’s signing, the bill passed unanimously out of both houses of the Illinois legislature.

View the bill (pdf)

August 16, 2016

To those concerned about Brendan Dassey:

We’ve received numerous messages from people who are understandably concerned about possible next steps in Brendan Dassey’s case. Some of you have asked whether it is appropriate to write to the federal judge who is presiding over Brendan’s habeas petition and urge him to release Brendan. It is not appropriate, and we ask you not to do so. We also urge supporters to refrain from contacting the Halbach family.

We have also been asked whether it is appropriate to write to the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office, the Wisconsin Department of Justice, or other law enforcement agencies to urge the State not to appeal the federal court’s decision. Again, we urge you not to do this.

Brendan and his team appreciate your ongoing support.

August 12, 2016

Brendan Dassey's petition for a writ of habeas corpus has been granted. Read the full decision (pdf). Read our press release online or as a pdf.

June 13, 2016

On June 8, 2016, the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth (CWCY) and Michigan Innocence Clinic (MIC) client Davontae Sanford was released from a Michigan prison after serving nine years for a 2007 quadruple homicide he confessed to but did not commit. 

Davontae was only 14 years old when he was picked up by police while standing in his front yard in his pajamas as police canvassed the neighborhood following the crime. Davontae was brought to the police station and subjected to over 24 hours of police interrogation, including two overnight interrogations, without an attorney or even a parent present. After police repeatedly accused him of this heinous crime, lied to him and said that they found blood on his shoes linking him to the crime scene, and told him he could go home if he just confessed, Davontae eventually broke and confessed. But his confession made little sense and got far more wrong than it got right.

Davontae was tried as an adult based almost entirely on his patently unreliable confession. Notwithstanding the State’s weak case, Davontae’s trial attorney did not move to suppress Davontae’s confession, despite its many red flags for false confessions, and did not ask a single question of the interrogating detective on cross-examination. Faced with his hopeless prospects, Davontae pleaded guilty in the middle of trial. He was sentenced to 39 to 92 years in prison.

mere two weeks after Davontae was sentenced, admitted professional hitman Vincent Smothers was arrested and freely told police that he and a single adult accomplice – not 14-year-old Davontae – were responsible for the Runyon Street killings. Smothers confessed to the Runyon killings while voluntarily confessing to a string of eight other murders he committed in 2006 and 2007. Unlike Davontae’s confession, Smothers’ confession to the Runyon killings was highly detailed, perfectly corroborated by the evidence, and included new information that the police did not know but later confirmed through further investigation. Most notably, Smothers led the police to one of murder weapons used on Runyon Street; that gun was a perfect ballistics match for the crime scene shell casings.

The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office charged Smothers with every other murder described in his confession, except the four murders for which Davontae Sanford was serving time. Instead of charging Smothers with these crimes, they offered him a plea deal contingent on his silence about the Runyon homicides. Smothers declined the deal because, in his words, “it seemed ludicrous . . . that the state would actually go this far to make sure Davontae Sanford remained in prison for crimes I committed and confessed to.”

Last April, the CWCY and MIC filed a motion for relief from judgment (pdf) detailing Davontae’s innocence. The motion left no question that Smothers’ confession was far more reliable than Davontae’s wholly uncorroborated confession, and attached a  30-page affidavit by hitman Vincent Smothers (pdf), as well as reports from several experts, including the nationally recognized police interrogation expert, Jim Trainum. This filing, and the significant national attention it garnered, spurred the Michigan State Police to open a wholesale reinvestigation of this case. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, led by Kym Worthy, authorized the investigation.

The Michigan State Police spent over a year exhaustively reinvestigating this case and Davontae’s involvement, if any. On May 20, 2015, the MSP turned over lengthy reports to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office detailing Davontae’s innocence, as well as related state misconduct. As a direct result, Worthy’s office moved to dismiss all charges against Davontae.

On June 6, 2016, Wayne County Judge Brian Sullivan vacated Davontae’s conviction and ordered his immediate release. We are thrilled for Davontae and his family. We also want to applaud the Michigan State Police for their truly extraordinary reinvestigation of the Runyon Street murders and Davontae’s innocence.

The CWCY legal team was led by co-director Megan Crane and supported by CWCY co-founder and Bluhm Legal Clinic Assistant Dean Steve Drizin and CWCY co-director Laura Nirider. The MIC team was led by co-founder and director Dave Moran. This victory would not have been possible without the tireless work of several Northwestern law students, including but not limited to, Lauren Howard (’15), Emily Damrau (’15), Cassie Hightman (’16), Monica Pedroza (’15), Melody Dernocoeur (’16), Sarah Rivkin (’15), Aaron Kacel (’17) and Celia Spalding (’16). The Bluhm Legal Clinic social workers provided critical support for our client and our legal team.

This is the second case in which Michigan’s Innocence Clinic and Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth have collaborated. The two programs worked together in 2014 to exonerate Jamie Lee Peterson after he spent 17 years in a Michigan prison for a 1996 rape-murder he did not commit. The MSP was also instrumental in that exoneration.

You can read more about the case in Northwestern’s press release, the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Detroit Free Press, the Christian Science Monitor, or Buzzfeed. You can also watch Davontae walk out of prison.

June 8, 2016

BREAKING NEWS: Davontae Sanford walked out of prison at 3 PM EST todayRead our press release (pdf).

June 7, 2016

Michigan Judge Orders Release of CWCY client Davontae SanfordRead our press release (pdf).

Davontae Sanford

May 10, 2016

Laura Nirider and Steve Drizin at Brendan Dassey: A True Story of A False Confession’

Brendan Dassey’s post-conviction attorneys, Steve Drizin and Laura Nirider, featured in the smash hit Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer, presented a lecture at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law on April 6, 2016, entitled Brendan Dassey: A True Story of A False Confession. 

Following their presentation, a panel of distinguished guests discussed issues presented by Brendan's confession and case, including the legality of certain interrogation techniques, the power of pre-trial publicity, and the impact of the Netflix documentary series, Making a Murderer, on the justice system more generally.

Illinois attorneys can earn 2 professional responsibility continuing legal education credits in the state of Illinois for this course through December 2016. The CLE fee is $150. Proceeds will go to support the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth.

March 23, 2016

Notice from Steven Drizin and Laura Nirider Regarding Use of the Reid Technique on Juveniles

As we have recently discovered, misinformation is spreading that we consider the Reid Technique of Interrogations the "gold standard on proper procedures" and that we "regularly review and our materials to establish best practices."

These statements are not accurate. We do not endorse the Reid Technique, nor do we consider it a model for proper procedures or best practices.

Read full notice (pdf)

March 1, 2016

A Conversation with Steve Drizin and Laura Nirider on Making a Murderer from Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.

January 29, 2016

Steve Drizin

CWCY co-founder Steve Drizin supports Tyra Patterson. Read her story at The Guardian: "A tale of two Tyras" and "I am Tyra Patterson".

January 5, 2016

The Netflix ten-part documentary series, Making a Murderer, is receiving rave reviews, with comparisons to such recent classic true crime dramas as The Jinx and Serial. The story centers on the “truth is stranger than fiction” tale of Steven Avery. Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth attorneys Steve Drizin and Laura Nirider are featured prominently in Episode 10 of the series, which contains courtroom footage of their efforts to win a new trial for Avery’s 16-year-old nephew, Brendan Dassey, who was convicted as Avery’s accomplice. For more information on the Dassey case, and for information on how to make a gift to the CWCY, click here.

Here's our Action Agenda on what viewers can do after watching Making a Murderer.

December 23, 2015

To the viewers of Making A Murderer:

We, at the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, want to wish you a Happy Holiday season.

We have received your many inquiries about Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey. It is important that you understand that we do not represent Steven Avery; we represent Brendan Dassey. As you know from watching the film, the evidence and the legal issues in the two cases are very different and we do not feel it is appropriate for us to respond to questions about Steven’s case.

As for Brendan, we are thinking about ways in which you can be of use to Brendan and other juvenile suspects who are interrogated by the police. Unfortunately, Brendan’s interrogation experience is all too common for juveniles suspected of crimes. In our work, we have seen police officers routinely question youthful suspects as if they are adults. All too often, courts have enabled police by allowing them to not only to use coercive tactics to get suspects to confess but by letting police contaminate confessions through the kind of fact-feeding you saw in the film.

We are trying to change police practices through our scholarship, our advocacy, and our casework. We have also co-written a guide with the International Association of Chiefs of Police entitled “Reducing Risks: An Executive’s Guide to Effective Interviewing and Interrogation of Juveniles”. For more information about our work, please feel free to peruse our website and the website of our parent organization -- the Center on Wrongful Convictions.

Thank you for your support for Brendan. We are sharing with him your well wishes and will spend the holidays thinking more about ways for Making A Murderer watchers to assist Brendan.

Update August 13, 2015 - Dan Andersen is exonerated! Read our press release.

Steve Drizin with CWCY client, Dan Andersen, on August 13, 2015.

Dan Andersen’s Convictions Vacated After 35 Years

On July 20, 2015, Judge Alfredo Maldonado of Cook County vacated CWCY client Daniel Andersen’s 1982 murder and attempted rape convictions.  19-year-old Dan Andersen was arrested on January 24, 1980, for the murder and attempted rape of 20-year-old Cathy Trunko, a friend from Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood who had been found stabbed to death five days earlier.  Police believed a bloody knife found two days after her stabbing in a neighbor’s yard was the murder weapon.  Dan was 19, sleep deprived, and very drunk when he confessed to killing Ms. Trunko with this bloody knife after sixteen hours of police interrogation. 

At trial, prosecutors said the blood type on the knife matched Ms. Trunko’s and argued that Dan’s confession to killing Ms. Trunko with that very knife proved his guilt.  He was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 55 years in prison. 

But in 2012, three decades later, DNA testing proved Dan’s innocence.  New DNA testing on the knife showed that neither Ms. Trunko’s blood nor Dan’s DNA was on the knife, proving it was not the murder weapon after all.  As Judge Maldonado concluded, “the knife was the lynchpin of the State’s case against” Dan; without it, there is absolutely no physical evidence linking Dan to this crime. 

What’s more, additional DNA testing of Ms. Trunko’s fingernail clippings revealed two male profiles – both of which excluded Dan Andersen.  This fingernail DNA evidence is truly exculpatory evidence because the evidence indicates that Ms. Trunko defended herself against her attacker and that at least one, if not both, of these DNA profiles belong to her assailant(s).

Judge Maldonado called this DNA evidence “extraordinarily compelling” and concluded that a jury would likely return a different result if the case were retried today. 

Dan, now 54 years old, served 27.5 years before his release in April of 2007.  While Dan has been “free” for over eight years, he has struggled to rebuild his life due to his convictions and status as a registered sex offender.  Despite his struggles, Dan has remained positive and focused on clearing his name, which he has finally achieved with this ruling. 

Dan has been a client of the CWCY since 2012 and has been represented by Steve Drizin, Josh Tepfer, Laura Nirider, and Megan Crane, along with a persistent and thoughtful group of Northwestern Law students: Weston Sager (JD 2015), Amanda Toy (JD 2015), Leidy Valencia (JD 2015), Lin Zhu (JD 2015), Abby Parr (JD 2014), Elena Garcia (JD 2014), Kathleen Garvey (JD 2013), and Adam Kirshner (JD 2013), and Rebeca Stephens (JD 2013), among others.

You can read more about the case in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun Times, and in our press release.

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