Above Photo: Scott Cornell (Shutterstock)
The state of Illinois is on its way to becoming the first in the nation to bar police officers from lying to minors during interrogations. In an effort to prohibit the manipulative tactics cops often use to coerce confessions that often turn out to be false confessions—to which people under the age of 18 are especially vulnerable—the Illinois General Assembly passed in a near-unanimous vote a bill that would make incriminating statements from minors inadmissible in court if investigating officers provided “false information about evidence or leniency” while interrogating their underage suspect.
USA Today reports that Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming weeks. One can imagine that a bill like this is unpopular with a lot of law enforcement officials who would rather be left to their own dishonest devices and continue lying their way to locking young Black people up, but surprisingly, the bill has the support of the state’s chiefs of police and the Illinois State’s Attorneys’ Association, including Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who advocated for the bill, citing the “history of false confessions in Illinois,” and calling the legislation “a critical step to ensuring that history is never repeated.”
Apparently, cops in Illinois are coercing false confessions out of people like it was part of their job description. State Sen. Robert Peters, one of the bill’s sponsors, characterized Chicago as “the wrongful conviction capital of the nation,” and said in a statement that “a disproportionate number of wrongful convictions were elicited from Black youth by police who were allowed to lie to them during questioning.”
Another co-sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Justin Slaughter, also agrees that the fib-tastic tactics cops use to draw out confessions disproportionately affect Black people and people of color and that the practice is essentially woven into the state’s history of bad policing.
“I’m incredibly proud of the coalition we built to end deceptive interrogation tactics that harm Black and brown youth in our communities,” Slaughter said in a statement. “With our state’s long history of false confessions, the coalition’s work in passing this bill is rooted in the need to lead with truth in justice.”
As we all should know, nothing about lying-ass cops saying whatever they need to say to pry a confession out of a possibly innocent suspect is unique to Illinois.
From USA Today:
It is legal for police in all 50 states to lie during interrogations. False confessions have played a role in about 30% of all wrongful convictions overturned with DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project. People under 18 are two to three times more likely to falsely confess than adults, according to a 2017 article in the New York University Law Review.Illinois is the first state legislature to pass such a bill, but similar legislation is pending in New York and Oregon, according to the Innocence Project. In Illinois, there have been 100 wrongful convictions predicated on false confessions, 31 of which involved minors in recent years, according to the state’s chapter of the national nonprofit.
One thing not included in the bill is punishments for police officers caught lying to minors outside of the probability that cases they worked on will be thrown out of court. According to the New York Times, Stephanie Kollmann, policy director of the Children and Family Justice Center at the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, said that the absence of a measure that would ensure officers face disciplinary action for lying to underage suspects—along with the fact that the bill doesn’t address what cops do outside of an official interrogation room—could incentivize officers to question minors in other settings such as in schools or when they’re stopped by officers on the street.
So, it isn’t a perfect bill, but it’s a step in the right direction. Hopefully, more states follow Illinois’ lead and adopt legislation that will protect young people from ending up in jail due to a cop’s manipulation.