On Jan. 1, 2022, Illinois will become the first state in the country to prohibit law enforcement officers from using “deceptive tactics” when they are questioning minors. These techniques, which can include lying, are not uncommon in questioning suspects who may have information about criminal activity. They have been legal since 1969.
Common deceptive techniques include telling suspects that they have DNA or other evidence that proves their guilt, that other people have put them at the scene of the crime and that if they confess, there will be fewer consequences than if they go to trial. Law enforcement officers questioning multiple suspects can turn them against each other, falsely stating that others have confessed and/or implicated them.
The legislation had broad support
However, national law enforcement organizations and those involved in training officers have long claimed that they too often lead young people to confess to crimes they didn’t commit. Probably the best-known example of this involved the teens known as the “Central Park Five” back in 1989 who were convicted of the brutal rape of a jogger.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed SB 2122 into law back in July after the legislation received nearly unanimous, bipartisan support in both houses of the Illinois Legislature. Among those who advocated on behalf of the legislation were state organizations representing chiefs of police and states attorneys as well as people who were coerced into “false confessions” and served time before being exonerated.
One of the consultants on the legislation, who helps run Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, says that minors are up to three times as likely to confess to crimes they didn’t commit under police questioning. Nearly a third of recent wrongful convictions based on false confessions in Illinois involve people who were minors at the time.
Deceptive tactics can still be used on adults
The new law does nothing to prevent law enforcement from legally using deceptive tactics to coerce confessions out of anyone 18 years of age and older. Some people are more susceptible to these tactics than others regardless of their age – particularly if they’re under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol and may not be entirely certain what they have or haven’t done.
That’s why it’s crucial to always invoke your rights, including your right to counsel. Authorities cannot legally continue to question you alone once you’ve invoked that right.