Bill would make 'deceptive interrogations' inadmissible in court
It sounds like an episode of “Law and Order” – detectives interrogating a suspect for hours with no food or sleep. Now, there’s a new push to make “deception or coercive tactics” inadmissible in court, especially for minors.
Terrill Swift spent 16 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit in Chicago. His case led to the nation’s first ban on deceptive interrogations. On Wednesday, Swift urged Connecticut lawmakers to follow suit.
“At 17 years of age, I was arrested, taken into custody, questioned for a crime I had absolutely no knowledge of. Was threatened that I was going to die in jail, that I was never going to see my mother again,” Swift said at a news conference at the State Capitol complex.
A new bill would make statements inadmissible if police threaten suspects physically, or deprive them of food, bathroom breaks and sleep. For juveniles, the proposal goes even further – prohibiting false statements about evidence, the law or promises of leniency.
Swift said that’s what happened to him.
“An officer saying, ‘Hey, I know you didn't do this. If you work with us, I'll let you go home.’ And unfortunately, I worked with them – signed a confession to a crime I did not commit.”
Swift and three others, dubbed the “Englewood Four,” were all convicted of raping and murdering a sex worker in 1994 and cleared by DNA evidence in 2011. The case cost Chicago and Cook County, Illinois, taxpayers a massive $60 million in legal settlements.
In Connecticut, 21% of exonerations were due to false confessions since 1989, according to data from the National Registry of Exonerations. Among them was Bobby Johnson of New Haven, who was 16 years old when he confessed to a murder he didn't commit. Johnson’s case cost the state $3 million in restitution.
But criminal justice experts aren’t convinced the bill is necessary anymore.
Mike Lawlor, a criminal justice advisor to former Gov. Dannel Malloy, said police interviews now must be recorded on video in Connecticut, leading to less risk for abuse.
“There's nothing in that bill that's not already the rules that govern what police are supposed to do,” said Lawlor, who now teaches at the University of New Haven.
Lawlor believes deceptive interrogation should be banned for minors. But for adults, he said police sometimes need to mislead suspects.
“For example, ‘We have your buddy in the other room and he says it was all your idea.’ Sometimes that elicits a person saying, ‘No, it wasn't my idea; it was his idea,’ which is a very incriminating statement,” he said.
A similar bill passed the state Senate last year but did not get a vote in the House of Representatives. The Connecticut Police Chief’s Association opposed it, writing: “This bill is not necessary because Connecticut police departments have policies preventing these types of actions.”