Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire! Can Chicago Police Lie to Children?

hicago-police-scaledRemember when you were a child? There were just a couple important rules that every child needed to follow to avoid being punished. If you followed these rules and were good, you might get a treat. On the other hand, if you acted out or were disobedient, punishment was sure to follow. Ever since the time of Moses and the Ten Commandments, children and adults alike have tried to avoid these Big 3 No-No’s:

1. Don’t steal!

If it’s not yours, don’t take it. If you have something that’s not yours, give it back. If you find something, try to figure out whose it is, so you can return it. That’s because taking or keeping something that’s not yours isn’t ok and may get you charged with a crime such as theft or retail theft. No one wants that.

2. Don’t hurt others or their property!

Do you want someone to touch you or your property without your permission? Obviously not. The teacher said that it wasn’t ok in kindergarten to take another child’s crayon or to push them down at recess. Guess what? It’s still not ok. You could be charged with Battery if you hurt someone or with Criminal Damage to Property if you damage their possessions.

3. Don’t lie!

Lying is bad. Don’t lie. Everyone knows that. Nothing could get you in trouble quicker as a child than lying to your parents or teacher. Depending on what kind of school you went to, you might get rapped on the knuckles with a ruler, or you might get a mouthful of soap at home. Definitely something we all did our best to avoid.

What Happens if You Lie to the Police?

But now we’re all grown-up and no one is threatening to wash our mouths out with soap if we lie. So, what are the real potential consequences for lying? If you lie about your age, your weight, or whether you really baked those cookies you brought to the bake-sale, no one will likely care very much. If you lie to your boss or your significant other, you may find yourself in hot water later and make a mess of things at work or at home, but you won’t be going to jail.

But what about the police? Can you lie to them? Generally, the answer is a resounding “no”, and the laws in Illinois are full of potential crimes that may result from lying to the police. Some examples are:

  • Obstructing Police – Probably the number one crime for lying to the police that a person might be charged with in Chicago is the crime of “obstructing police”. This involves knowingly obstructing the performance of a police officer. A typical example might involve a person who gives wrong information to a cop during the course of their investigation or someone who switches seats with the driver during a DUI arrest in order to mislead the police.
  • Obstructing Identification – If you give an incorrect name, address or birthdate information to an officer who is lawfully arresting or detaining a person, this is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and you can be charged with this crime.
  • False Police Report – If it is later determined that any part of the information you gave to police was untrue, you may also be charged with this crime in Chicago. Whether it relates to a misdemeanor, a felony, or a minor traffic offense, you may be prosecuted for this criminal offense.

What Happens if the Police Lie to an Adult?

The answer (surprisingly to most people) is basically nothing at all will likely happen. Police are generally allowed to lie to you in order to make an arrest stick. It’s not against the law. The very worst that might sometimes happen would be that a Judge, after considering all the circumstances that lead up to a defendant’s confession, might later throw out the confession as a “false confession” at trial. What would happen to the officer that lied to such a suspect? Nothing really. That’s because the law generally gives the police lots of room in their quest to get at “the truth”. Although you might think that some of the following are only things that happen on television, they’re not. They happen every day in Chicago and across Illinois. Some of the most common examples of acceptable police lies include:

1. "We have an eyewitness."

When interrogating a suspect, the police may tell the person that they have an eyewitness that saw the suspect commit the crime, even though there is no such eyewitness and it’s a complete lie. If the suspect then confesses, the confession will still likely be admissible at trial.

2. "We can get a search warrant."

When the police want to search someone’s car or home for evidence of a crime, they don’t always have the “probable cause” necessary to justify the search. They’ll ask the suspect for permission to search, but if the person won’t give consent, then the search will be considered illegal and the evidence suppressed at trial later. So often, the police will tell the suspect that if they won’t give their consent, they’ll quickly get a search warrant anyway (which is often a lie). When faced with this threat, the suspect will often just give consent to the search.

3. "We have your fingerprints."

In an effort to secure a confession to a gun crime, a burglary or some other crime that may have involved the suspect touching and leaving fingerprints at the scene of the crime, the Chicago Police will sometimes lie and state that they have a fingerprint match, when they really don’t have any fingerprints at all. Although such actions are considered sneaky, unfair and unjust by most, a confession that results from such an interaction will still be admissible in most courts.

4. "We’ll go lighter on you if you cooperate."

The oldest trick in the book. It happens not just on TV but in real life every minute of every day in Chicago and across the country. Defendants, especially those who are inexperienced with police and the court system, believe the police when they say that they’ll “put in a good word” with the State’s Attorney or prosecutor if they’ll just cooperate and admit to the crime. Sometimes they’ll put in this “good word” and often times they won’t. But even when they do, what real effect this has on the case is usually negligible, because it’s the prosecutor who’s in charge of seeking the actual punishment on the case, not the police.

What Happens if the Police Lie to a Child?

Until this month, there was effectively no difference in Illinois between police lying to adults and to children in Illinois. It was perfectly fine in either situation – simply amazing! But what is even more shocking is that with the new Illinois law that was just passed, which now makes it illegal for the police to lie to children, Illinois becomes the ONLY state in America to make this illegal! For those in Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, and every other state, the police are still allowed to lie in an effort to secure a confession, even if the criminal charges at stake might be first-degree murder carrying a life sentence.

At trial, it’s still possible however for the prosecution to admit such a lie-induced confession into evidence, but in order to do so, they would have to prove to the judge by a preponderance of the evidence that the confession was still voluntary. Although this groundbreaking new Illinois law is being hailed in Chicago and across the state by criminal justice reformers, it’s astounding that it took until 2021 for a law such as this to pass, and that no other states have yet followed suit.

So, what about lying to adults? Why can the police lie to adults and not to children? If the suspect is 17 ½ years old they can’t be lied to, but if they’re 18 years old they can? What about adults who are suffering from a mental illness, or are of low intelligence or IQ? We find this new law to be a good start, but with obviously much work still to be done, both in Chicago and across the country.

Talk to our experienced Legal Team

For over 30 years, the attorneys at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC have helped people charged with criminal and traffic offenses, large and small. Call us any time of day to be put in touch with a knowledgeable lawyer for a free consultation to discuss your matter free of charge. We can be reached at (312) 644-0444.

Written by Mitchell S. Sexner Last Updated : January 18, 2022