Illinois to become first state to ban police officers from lying to minors during interrogations

Illinois could soon become the first state to ban police from lying to minors during interrogations, a tactic advocates say significantly increases the risk of false confessions.

If a law enforcement officer knowingly provides “false information about evidence or leniency” during an interrogation, any statements from someone under the age of 18 would be inadmissible as evidence in court, according to a bill that passed the Illinois General Assembly with near-unanimous support. Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign it into law in the coming weeks.

“Chicago is the wrongful conviction capital of the nation, and a disproportionate number of wrongful convictions were elicited from Black youth by police who were allowed to lie to them during questioning,” said state Sen. Robert Peters, one of the bill’s sponsors, in a statement. “That ends now.”

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The bill was supported by the state’s Chiefs of Police, the Illinois State’s Attorneys’ Association, and the Office of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

“The history of false confessions in Illinois can never be erased, but this legislation is a critical step to ensuring that history is never repeated,” Foxx said in a statement. “I hope this is a start to rebuilding confidence and trust in a system that has done harm to so many people for far too long.”

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.

The organization highlighted a series of group exonerations of young people in Illinois and several high profile outside the state cases including the Central Park Five and Brendan Dassey, whose story was highlighted in the Netflix series “Making a Murderer.”

In New York, five Black and Latino teens, now also known as the Exonerated Five, were coerced into confessing to a rape they didn’t commit in 1989 and served prison time before being exonerated in 2002. 

Dassey was 16 years old when he confessed to Wisconsin authorities that he had joined his uncle, Steve Avery, in the 2005 rape and murder of photographer Teresa Halbach, though no forensic evidence linked him to the crime. His attorneys say he’s intellectually impaired and that he was manipulated by experienced police officers into accepting their story of how Halbach’s murder happened. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said in 2019 he will not consider a pardon request for Dassey.

The bill does not, however, include punishments for officers who lie during interrogations or address officers who use deceptive tactics outside interrogation rooms. That could incentivize officers to question minors in other settings, said Stephanie Kollmann, policy director of the Children and Family Justice Center at the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, in the New York Times.

State Rep. Justin Slaughter, the bill’s cosponsor, acknowledged there is more work to be done but said he hopes the measure can begin to rebuild trust. 

“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.”

Contributing: The Associated Press

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