Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, D, on Thursday signed the nation’s first law banning law enforcement from lying and deploying other deceptive practices when interrogating minors.
The ban, which goes into effect Jan. 1, prohibits tactics like falsely promising leniency and claiming that incriminating evidence exists when it does not. It shows the state’s recognition of the “need to change laws that have failed the people they serve,” he said.
Using deceptive tactics during interrogations is generally permitted in the United States. But the practice often leads to false confessions, experts say. Minors, who some studies show are two to three times as likely to give a false confession as adults, are particularly vulnerable.
The bill was one of four criminal justice laws that Pritzker signed on Thursday, which he said would “advance the rights of our most vulnerable.” The other bills addressed mass incarceration through efforts that include using “restorative justice practices,” such as mediation, and making it easier for courts to reduce sentences after convictions.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, whose jurisdiction includes Chicago, supported the new limits on police interrogation. “We continue to work to correct the wrongs of the past – wrongs inflicted by law enforcement, including prosecutors,” she said in a statement.
Minors and other vulnerable people, such as those with intellectual disabilities, are particularly harmed by deceptive tactics, said David Sklansky, a Stanford law professor and co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center.
Terrill Swift, who alleges he was coerced by Chicago police into giving a false confession when he was 17, said at a news conference Thursday that the bill “could have saved my life.”
Swift, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of a woman, spent 15½ years behind bars. He was later exonerated by DNA evidence. Police deployed a “series of lies” against him, Swift said, adding that law enforcement told him to falsely admit that he was hiding someone.
The Chicago Police Department did not immediately return a request for comment.
Sklansky said that the United States, unlike many other liberal democracies, has a “long tradition of favoring interrogation tactics that are designed to trick people into confessing.”
“There are countless television shows and movies in which heroic police officers solve cases by cleverly tricking the people they are interrogating into implicating themselves,” Sklansky said, adding that such portrayals “glorified” tactics that will soon be illegal in Illinois.
Although proponents of the practice believe that guilty people will admit to crimes and innocent people will not, decades of evidence suggest that such deceptive tactics lead to false confessions, he said.
In 1983, for instance, two half-brothers with intellectual disabilities were wrongfully convicted in the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl. The brothers, who were 19 and 15 at the time, were coerced into giving false confessions. A North Carolina jury in May awarded them $75 million in damages for the decades they spent imprisoned.
As the first law of its kind in the country, the Illinois law is “very significant,” Sklansky said, adding that he hopes the bill serves as a model for other states.
The passage of the bill “is a great step,” said Swift, although he added that “we still have so much work to do.”
“One day in prison wrongfully is too long.”