Illinois Lawmakers Ban Police Deception in Juvenile Interrogations

06.07.21

Steve Liss

Illinois is the first state in the nation to pass legislation that prohibits police officers from lying to children suspected of a crime during interrogations.

The bill bars the use of deceptive interrogation tactics on children, which significantly increase the risk of false confessions and wrongful convictions.

SB2122 provides that, if a law enforcement or juvenile officer “knowingly engages in deception”—by lying about the evidence or making unauthorized statements about leniency—any statement the child makes will be presumed inadmissible in court.

“When a kid is in a stuffy interrogation room being grilled by adults, they’re scared and are more likely to say whatever it is they think the officer wants to hear to get themselves out of that situation, regardless of the truth,” said State Senator Robert Peters (D-Chicago), who sponsored the bill. “Police officers too often exploit this situation in an effort to elicit false information and statements from minors in order to help them with a case. Real safety and justice can never be realized if we allow this practice to continue.”

False confessions are the most frequent contributing factor in wrongful conviction cases involving homicides, and have played a role in about 30% of all wrongful convictions overturned by DNA, the Innocence Project reports

Children are especially vulnerable to these deception tactics, explained Rep. Justin Slaughter (D-Chicago), who introduced the bill in the House. 

He pointed to the case of Terrill Swift, who was just 17 when Chicago police officers coerced a confession from him that led to his wrongful conviction for murder and rape. One of the “Englewood Four,” Mr. Swift’s conviction was vacated based on DNA evidence after nearly 15 years in prison. He was released in 2012.

“There have been a hundred wrongful convictions in Illinois predicated on false confessions, minors make up 31 of these cases,” he said. “Research, experience and common sense tell us that minors are between two and three times more likely to falsely confess the crimes they didn’t commit.”

Republican House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, a former Chicago prosecutor who tried hundreds of criminal cases, co-sponsored the bill. 

“Our criminal justice system should not be guided by a conviction, but rather it should be guided by the advancement of the truth,” Rep. Durkin said. “Deception can never be utilized under any condition in our criminal justice system and particularly against juveniles. I say this as a lawyer, legislator and former prosecutor.”

The bill was supported by individuals who were wrongly convicted based on false confessions as well as the state’s Chiefs of Police, the Illinois State’s Attorney’s 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,” Ms. Foxx said in a news release. “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.”

After passing with near-unanimous bipartisan support in both houses on May 30, the first-of-its-kind bill now goes to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who is expected to sign it into law in the coming weeks.

A similar bill in Oregon, sponsored by a former law enforcement officer, passed the House and is headed to the Senate, according to AP. And in New York—where deceptive interrogation techniques contributed to several wrongful convictions of children, including 15-year-old Yusef Salaam—AP reports a bill is pending that would apply to adults and minors.