Netflix’s compelling true crime documentary series, Making a Murderer, has inspired a lot of strong emotions and questions about the U.S. judicial system, so much so that a petition to pardon Steven Avery and his cousin Brendan Dassey was started on December 20th on the government’s We The People website. We The People features citizen-created petitions, with the White House addressing those that reach a threshold of at least 100,000 signatures within 30 days. As of press time, it had reached 129,841 signatures, and the White House has issued an official response.
The petition, titled “Pardon Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey for their alleged involvement in the murder of Teresa Halbach,” beckons President Obama to give a full pardon to the pair for their “wrongful conviction in the connection to the murder of Teresa Halbach.” The petition bases its reasoning on the documentary series’ findings and the evidence presented.
As the docu-series details, Avery served 18 years in prison for a sexual assault he didn’t commit, but he was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2003. Two years later, Avery and Dassey were convicted of Halbach’s murder.
In a statement on the We The People site, the White House said that the president couldn’t free the men.
“Under the constitution, only federal criminal convictions, such as those adjudicated in the United States District Courts, may be pardoned by the President,” the statement reads. “In addition, the President’s pardon power extends to convictions adjudicated in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and military court-martial proceedings. However, the President cannot pardon a state criminal offense.”
The statement further explained that any pardon would need to be issued at the state level. Despite the White House’s response not resulting in what the petition sought, the administration acknowledged there have been some failings within the justice system, which it has sought to correct.
“While the case is out of the Administration’s purview, President Obama is committed to restoring the sense of fairness at the heart of our justice system. That’s why he has granted 184 commutations total – more than the last five presidents combined – and has issued 66 pardons over his time in office.”
It also pointed to the administration’s actions to reduce the federal prison population and its addressing of “the vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration that traps that too many Americans and weakens too many communities.”