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IL Lawmakers Consider New Protections for Juvenile Suspects

Some Illinois lawmakers are considering requiring a lawyer to be present for youths who are interrogated by police. (iStockphoto)
Some Illinois lawmakers are considering requiring a lawyer to be present for youths who are interrogated by police. (iStockphoto)
March 11, 2016

CHICAGO - Young people accused of crimes in Illinois soon could have new protections that their advocates believe will help cut down on false confessions.

State lawmakers are in Chicago today discussing Senate Bill 2370, which would extend the right to a lawyer to youths ages 13 to 17 who are in police custody for questioning. Sen. Patricia Van Pelt, D-Chicago, a lead sponsor of the bill, said the state has been sued numerous times for extracting false confessions from young people who waived their Miranda rights without really understanding them.

"Ninety-six percent of the kids do not understand it, and they waive it," she said, "and then the police are able to also deceive them to get confessions out of them, and it ends up in adult court."

The bill would require any minor who is interrogated to have a lawyer present; otherwise, their statement could not be used in court.

McArthur Justice Center juvenile-justice lawyer Sheila Bedi recently worked on a successful class-action suit in St. Clair County. In that case, a 17-year-old with the IQ of a 9-year-old had no attorney when he was interrogated by police. The boy falsely confessed to an armed robbery and spent nine months in jail. Bedi said she's supporting the bill because of cases such as this.

"The idea that a child cannot vote, cannot sign contracts, but can be subjected to an interrogation without the guidance of counsel just flies in the face of any notions of fairness and due process," she said.

Many times, Bedi said, young people accused of serious crimes will tell police what they want to hear in an intense interrogation. Currently in Illinois, only children under age 13 have the right to an attorney during interrogation, and that's only for murder and sex-offense charges.

The full text of SB 2370 is online at ilga.gov.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - IL