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Changes in Illinois Law Meant to Curb False Confessions

December 10th, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Stories of wrongful convictions seem to be more popular as we make advancements in technology that was previously unavailable.  Oftentimes, DNA or other forensic evidence serves to exonerate a defendant that was previously convicted of a crime, despite the fact that enough evidence was presented to support a guilty verdict.  Even more surprising, the individual may have confessed to the act during police interrogation even though they were actually innocent.   The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange recently ran a series of articles regarding false confessions and filmed interrogations.  The latest addition focuses on Illinois’ new interrogation law, and its intended effect on reducing wrongful convictions.

false confessionThe article discusses the case of Juan Rivera, who was wrongfully convicted of a rape and murder he did not commit due to coercive interrogation methods.  He was charged with the crimes, even though he had been under electronic monitoring which showed he was at his home more than two miles away when the crime occurred, and there was no physical evidence connecting him to the scene. However, Rivera ended up signing a confession that police prepared and placed in front of him after four days of intense questioning that broke him down to the point of being in tears and speaking incoherently.  Because of that confession, he spent 19 years in prison before he was finally freed in January 2012. Many people blame this, and other similar cases, on corrupt police tactics under the supervision of Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge.  Rivera’s interrogation was not recorded, despite the availability of the equipment.  This meant it came down to Rivera’s word against the word of the police. The new law, which requires police to record interrogations in the investigation of certain violent crimes, is meant to safeguard against such police tactics and avoid tragic outcomes like Juan Rivera’s.

The new law is an extension of one sponsored in 2003 by then-senator Barack Obama.  The 2003 law mandated the recording of homicide investigations.  The new legislation, which one of Rivera’s attorneys helped to draft, expands the 2003 law to include eight more violent crimes, which will be phased in over the next three years, and requires police to audio or video record any statement made by a suspect being interrogated for any of the specified felonies, or such statement will be inadmissible.  The purpose of the law is to bring transparency and accuracy to the criminal justice system.

The advantages of the law are pretty clear: it will be a reliable source of clarity in situations where police and suspects remember details of an interrogation differently; police will be less likely to employ aggressive or unethical interrogation methods, and suspects will be less likely to claim they were coerced into a false confession.  The biggest concerns surrounding the new law are financial and logistical ones involving outfitting police interrogation rooms with the recording equipment needed to fulfill the new requirements.  Illinois State Rep. Scott Drury, who is behind the bill, argues that over the long term, the cost of recording equipment does not compare to the cost of payouts related to a wrongful conviction.  In addition, the method of phasing in the requirements is likely an attempt to relieve some concerns over cost.  It is also important to note that the law does have exceptions for situations where a recording device malfunctions or certain outside circumstances make it impossible to record.

All in all, the statute is meant to provide protection to both criminal defendants and law enforcement, and is an important change in the criminal procedure law in Illinois.  If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in the Chicago area, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss your case and protect your rights.

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Written by Staff Writer

December 10th, 2013 at 4:54 pm

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