This week, Illinois became the first state in the nation to make it illegal for police officers to lie to children during interrogations. The new law signed this week by Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker aims to prevent interrogators from using fake information to obtain confessions from minors.
The bill would block police officers from making up evidence to entice a confession when interviewing minors, or from providing them false promises about leniency. The bill passed the state legislature with near unanimous support in votes held in April and May. Oregon and New York are considering similar bills.
Thirty-one of the 100 people exonerated in Illinois over the past three decades due to false confessions have been minors, according to the Innocence Project. As the Chicago Tribune reported, Terrill Swift, who appeared at the bill’s signing ceremony, was 17 when police used deceptive tactics to get him to provide a false confession to a 1994 rape and murder committed in Chicago’s South Side. He served 14 years in prison before DNA evidence linked a convicted sex offender and murderer to the crime.
The new law will bar confessions secured through lies from being allowed in court unless prosecutors show “by a preponderance of the evidence that the confession was voluntarily given.” The law does not require punishments for interrogating police officers who lie to children. The New York Times reported that it also doesn’t cover cases where police deceive minors outside the interrogation room.
While the bill was hailed by criminal justice reform groups, like many American “good news” stories, celebrations of the new law carry an dystopian undertone. Why did it take until 2021 for any state to block police officers from lying to kids to get false confessions that could lead to life sentences? And is encouraging such falsehoods justifiable in other contexts? The law is silent on adults in Illinois, who, like children and adults in every other state, will continue to have no such protection from cop’s lies.