Proposed state law would ban police from misleading young suspects

  • Illinois state Sen. Laura Fine

    Illinois state Sen. Laura Fine

  • Laura Nirider

    Laura Nirider

 
Updated 4/23/2021 6:03 PM

For police trying to crack a tough case, one tool in the arsenal is deception -- letting suspects think there's strong evidence against them, even when there's none, in hopes of getting a confession.

But an effort in Springfield this month aims to ban that kind of trickery when it comes to juveniles.

 

Senate Bill 2122, which has been working its way through the upper house of the General Assembly this week, would prohibit police from lying to a juvenile suspect about evidence in a case, or making unauthorized statements about any leniency that might come with an admission of guilt.

"The intent behind the bill is, what can we do to protect juveniles, especially in these situations," said state Sen. Laura Fine, a Democrat from Glenview and one of the bill's co-sponsors.

Proponents, including some law enforcement leaders and prosecutors, say minors are two to three times more likely than adults to be coerced into false confessions. As a result, they say, innocent juveniles can end up serving time for crimes they didn't commit.

That's what happened with the notorious case of the Central Park Five, New York City teens who were locked up for years after falsely confessing to a brutal 1991 assault on a jogger.

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Closer to home, a group of Chicago teens who came to be known as the Englewood Four spent 16 years in prison for murder convictions based largely on coerced confessions. They were exonerated when DNA linked the slaying to a convicted killer.

Laura Nirider, a law professor at Northwestern University and co-director of its Center on Wrongful Convictions, said the legislation and similar bills in two other states are the result of unprecedented collaboration between law enforcement and those who seek to overturn wrongful convictions.

"The point of this bill is really to excise this outdated interrogation tactic that is way more risky than it is useful," she said.

How risky? According to the National Registry of Exonerations, at least 100 known wrongful convictions in Illinois were the result of false confessions. And 31 of those cases involved juvenile defendants.

Nirider has been working with Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates, a Downers Grove-based firm that provides interview training to police departments across the country, to identify the interrogation tactics that lead to false confessions.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Illinois, Nirider said, is on track to become the first state in the nation to outlaw deceptive interrogation tactics.

"We're really prescribing a new way of interviewing juveniles to avoid the risk of false confessions while still solving crimes and identifying the real perpetrators," she said.

"There is a consensus now that deceptive interrogation tactics are not required at all. There's plenty of other tried-and-true ways of interrogating people that get at the truth."

Cops on board

While police haven't been happy with much of the recent legislation coming out of Springfield -- most notably the sweeping criminal justice reform bill signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in February -- this is one area where lawmakers and many police leaders agree.

In fact, in a 2018 report called "Reducing Risks: An Executive's Guide to Effective Juvenile Interview and Interrogation," the International Association of Chiefs of Police warn that officers should "think twice" before misleading young suspects.

"The use of deception also may cause an innocent juvenile -- even one who initially had a clear recollection of not committing a crime -- to mistrust his memory, accept that the 'evidence' proves his guilt, and eventually confess to a crime that he did not commit," the report states.

Suburban police are teaming with the Drug Enforcement Administration on Saturday for National Take Back Day.
Suburban police are teaming with the Drug Enforcement Administration on Saturday for National Take Back Day. -
Take Back Day

If you have any old, expired or unwanted prescription drugs lying around, now's the time to fix that.

On Saturday, police departments across the suburbs are teaming with the Drug Enforcement Administration for National Take Back Day. Participating departments will be accepting unwanted prescription drugs -- free and anonymous, no questions asked -- for safe disposal.

In its 19 previous Take Back events, the DEA and its partners have taken in almost 14 million pounds of pills.

For police and drug abuse prevention groups, it's about more than just providing a safe and free way to get rid of unwanted prescriptions. It also helps in their fight against the opioid crisis and other substance abuse.

According to the DEA, prescription drugs that languish in home cabinets are highly susceptible to diversion, misuse and abuse.

Rates of prescription drug abuse in the U.S. are alarmingly high, as are the number of accidental poisonings and overdoses, they say.

And the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2019 showed that 9.7 million people misused prescription pain relievers that year, while 4.9 million more misused prescription stimulants and another 5.9 million misused prescription tranquilizers or sedatives.

For more information, and to find out whether your hometown police department or one nearby is taking part, visit https://takebackday.dea.gov/.

Best of the bunch

Buffalo Grove police officer Michael Carlson
Buffalo Grove police officer Michael Carlson

Congrats to Buffalo Grove police officer Michael Carlson, who was honored this week as the village's 2020 Officer of the Year.

Carlson, who was sworn in as a police officer in 2012, has been with the department's traffic unit since 2014 and in 2015 joined the Lake County Major Crash Assistance Team.

A certified Illinois traffic crash reconstruction specialist, he responded to 17 MCAT investigations last year, and investigated five major crashes in Buffalo Grove, department officials say.

Buffalo Grove police officer Matthew Mills
Buffalo Grove police officer Matthew Mills

The village this week also honored officer Matthew Mills with a Special Commendation Award.

A 20-year police veteran, Mills is a member of the department's Police Community Officers for Research and Engagement team, the Northern Illinois Police Alarm System Mobile Field Force and the bike response team, as well as the department's honor guard.

• Have a question, tip or comment? Email us at copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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