Illinois became the first state Sunday to pass a bill that will ban police from lying to youth during interrogations — a practice that adds significantly to the risk of false confessions and wrongful convictions. It is expected to be signed into law by the governor in coming weeks.
The original sponsors, state Senator Robert Peters and state Representative Justin Slaughter, garnered bipartisan support for the bill that culminated in a near-unanimous vote to pass it in both houses. House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, a Republican and former Chicago prosecutor, joined as a co-sponsor and helped propel the bill’s passage.
“I’ll never be accused of being soft on crime, but I’m more interested in seeking the truth than a conviction,” Durkin said. “I believe in fair play. We should never tolerate, under any circumstance, the use of deception to seek a statement or an admission by any defendant, let alone a juvenile.”
Though few Americans realize it, police regularly deceive suspects during questioning to try to secure confessions, from saying DNA placed them at the scene of a crime to claiming eyewitnesses identified them as being the perpetrator. Detectives also can lie about the consequences of confessing, saying, for instance, that admitting responsibility is a quick ticket home.
Minors — who have been found to be two to three times more likely to confess to crimes they didn’t commit — are especially vulnerable to such pressure tactics, said Laura Nirider, co-director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, who consulted on the bill together with the national Innocence Project and the Illinois Innocence Project.
Though it is currently legal for police in all 50 states to lie during interrogations, Oregon and New York are considering similar legislation, said Rebecca Brown, policy director at the national Innocence Project.
The Oregon bill, sponsored by a former law enforcement officer, passed the House this week and heads next to the Senate.
A bill still pending in New York would apply to adults as well as minors. There, deceptive interrogation techniques have contributed to several infamous juvenile wrongful convictions, including 15-year-old Yusef Salaam of the so-called Central Park Five, now also known as the Exonerated Five. The five Black and Latino teens were coerced into confessing to a rape they didn’t commit in 1989 and served prison time before being exonerated in 2002.
Illinois has in recent years uncovered at least 100 wrongful convictions predicated on false confessions, 31 of them involving people under 18 years of age.
Senate Bill 2122 was supported not only by individuals who themselves falsely confessed to crimes, but also 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 press 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.”