State Senator Claims Chicago Is “False Confession Capital of the Whole United States”

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, a compendium maintained by the University of Michigan Law School, nearly 150 convicted criminals were fully exonerated in 2015, the highest number in a single year ever. The list included 13 individuals convicted in Illinois of murder and sex crimes. While any wrongful conviction is a matter of great concern, the high rate of false confessions in such cases is alarming, with 27 reported nationwide and eight of 13 here in Illinois. False confessions—while a problem for any defendant—are especially likely when the suspect is a juvenile, as younger individuals are often unsure of their rights and are unable to maintain composure during interrogation.

Based on these concerns, State Senator Patricia Van Pelt, D-Chicago, has introduced legislation to ensure that all juvenile suspects have legal counsel present for entire interrogation process. Sen. Van Pelt says she is looking to protect the rights of young suspects in the state and in her home city. “The one thing about Chicago,” she said. “It is the false confession of the whole United States.”

Current Law and Proposed Changes

Illinois law currently requires counsel to be present for juvenile suspects under the age of 13 who have been accused of murder or sex crimes. Those who are 13 and older, however, can waive the right to an attorney during questioning. Many are concerned that suspects can be talked into waiving these rights without understanding them, thereby increasing the risk for false confessions.

Sen. Van Pelt’s bill would require legal counsel to be present for custodial interrogations of a juvenile suspected of committing any offense. Any statements made without an attorney present would be inadmissible in court. Public defenders would, for the most part, be expected to provide counsel in such situations. The court could then decide if the public defender should be removed from the case based on the family’s ability to pay for private representation.

Opposing Views

Critics of the measure, in its current form, say that vague language may present challenges for law enforcement. Some maintain that police procedures may just need to be improved so that juvenile suspects more clearly understand their existing rights. Others claim that a police conversation with a juvenile does not always begin as an interrogation of a suspect. An officer may just be developing information on a case, but, in the process, the juvenile becomes a suspect. How is the officer supposed to know where exactly to draw the line before statements become inadmissible?

The bill—likely an amended version—is expected to be put to a vote sometime in the current legislative session.

If your child has been charged with a crime and you are concerned about the implications of a false confession, contact an experienced Joliet juvenile defense lawyer right away. Attorney Jack L. Zaremba is a former prosecutor who understands the lengths that some authorities will go to in securing a conviction, and he is ready to fight for your child’s rights. Call 815-740-4025 for a free consultation today.

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