Police will be forbidden from using deceptive tactics while interrogating minors under a measure Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law Thursday, making Illinois the first state in the nation to ban the practice.
Advocates of the new law say lying or using other means of deception while questioning a young person in police custody can lead to false confessions and ultimately wrongful convictions. That’s what Terrill Swift, who spent nearly 15 years in prison after falsely confessing to a 1994 rape and murder, says happened to him. DNA evidence later tied the crime to a previously convicted murderer and sex offender.
“We can all agree that one day in prison wrongfully is too long,” Swift, one of the “Englewood Four” teens who were wrongly convicted of the crime, said during a bill signing at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law.
The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, bars police from knowingly providing false information about evidence or making unauthorized statements about leniency while questioning those 17 and younger. Any confession made under those circumstances will be inadmissible in court unless prosecutors can prove “by a preponderance of the evidence that the confession was voluntarily given.”
“My deep hope is that Illinois is setting an example for the entire nation to pass this law in all 50 states,” Pritzker said.
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The governor also signed measures that prevent statements made during restorative justice practices from being used in court; allow state prosecutors to petition courts for lighter sentences for people previously convicted in their counties; and create a task force to study ways to reduce the state’s prison population through resentencing.
These are the latest changes to the criminal justice system signed into law by Pritzker, who earlier this year signed a sweeping proposal from the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus that will abolish cash bail beginning in 2023 and require universal police body cameras by 2025, among other changes.
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Terrill Swift at his home in Lisle on Tuesday, February 28, 2017. Swift was one of the “Englewood Four” teens who were wrongly convicted of a 1994 rape and murder. DNA evidence later tied the crime to a previously convicted murderer and sex offender.