Can Police Interrogate Children Without a Lawyer Present?

Can Police Interrogate Children Without a Lawyer Present

Illinois Senate Bill 3321 was recently introduced in order to expand the protection of minors’ rights while in police custody.

Senator Robert Peters introduced a bill, with support from Governor Pritzker, that would expand the protections afforded to minors during in-custody interrogations. The newly introduced bill builds upon prior laws which required that a lawyer be present for any questioning of a minor under the age of 15 for cases dealing with homicide and sexual assault. The bill also bans the use of deception in police interrogation of minors.

Wrongful Convictions and False Confessions

The Illinois legislature has been increasing protections for minors during custodial (while in custody and not free to leave) interrogations in response to false confessions and wrongful convictions that have resulted from police activity when investigating cases.

In 2021, Illinois passed a bill that banned the use of deception during juvenile interrogation largely in response to a coerced confession from a 17-year-old Terrill Swift for a murder and rape that resulted in a wrongful conviction and which resulted in Mr. Swift serving about 15 years in prison until he was cleared by DNA evidence. He was released in 2012.

Laws to Prevent Police from Engaging in Deception

The 2021 law created a presumption of inadmissibility for any statement by a minor where law enforcement “knowingly engages in deception” by lying about evidence or making statements of leniency that are unauthorized. Similar laws to prevent the use of deception have been presented in other states including Oregon and New York.

Unfortunately, that law failed to provide protection for 15-year-old Martell Williams when he was arrested by the Waukegan Police department in February of 2022. An investigation showed that Williams was pulled from his classes and interrogated by Waukegan Police over a long period of time. During the questioning, Williams was offered McDonald’s and told he could go home when he told officers he was at the scene of an attempted murder of a Dollar General clerk. Police apparently told Williams they knew he acted in self-defense at the store. He was eventually released from custody once a video surfaced showing that Williams was actually playing in a high-school basketball game at the time of the offense.

Statements by Children Without a Lawyer Inadmissible

The new law would make any statement, about any crime, by anyone under the age of 18, inadmissible in a juvenile or criminal proceeding if a lawyer was not present for the statement and it requires that counsel be present throughout the entire custodial interrogation. The law also would prevent minors from being able to waive their right to counsel. This proposed law would also delete a provision allowing for a custodial statement to be admitted as evidence if the presumption of inadmissibility is overcome by a preponderance of evidence showing that the statement was voluntary and reliable based on a totality of the circumstances. In other words, if an attorney is not present for the statement, the prosecution cannot offer the statement as evidence as easily as they could in previous versions of the law.

Convictions Based on Coerced Confessions Overturned

According to an investigation and review of the National Registry of Exonerations data, at least 30 Illinois minors between the ages of 15 and 17 confessed to crimes before their convictions were overturned based on new evidence. The Illinois Innocence Project has reported that in 2021, 100 wrongful convictions were based on false confessions, with about 31 of those being from minors under the age of 18. The Prison Policy Initiative claims that juveniles are two to three times more likely to confess to crimes they did not commit than their adult counterparts.

Call to Arrange a Free Consultation

For a free consultation in both criminal and traffic matters in such diverse areas as DUI, retail theft, drug offenses and sexual crimes, the experienced legal team at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC can be reached at (312) 644-0444.

Written by Mitchell S. Sexner Last Updated : February 16, 2024