Illinois Senator Calls For More Teens To Have A Lawyer During Police Interrogations

Apr 15, 2016

An Illinois lawmaker want teenagers accused of murder to have a lawyer present when questioned by law enforcement. 

State Sen. Patricia Van Pelt, D-Chicago, discusses her bill at a press conference. On the right is Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago.
Credit Sarah Mueller WUIS

  The popular Netflix documentary "Making a Murderer" has turned the public's attention to issues like false confessions and wrongful convictions. "Making a Murderer" was based on a Wisconsin true-crime story.

But State Sen. Patricia Van Pelt, D-Chicago, said it's a problem for kids in her city and across Illinois.

"The one thing about Chicago," she said. "It is the false confession capital of the whole United States."

State law mandates lawyers be present when police officers aggressively question teenagers aged 12 and under who are accused of murder or sex crimes. But youth between 13-and-17 years old can waive their right to a lawyer during interrogations.

  Van Pelt said the current lack of protections for these teenagers lead to false confessions because they're not yet mentally capable of making the legal decisions required to waive legal rights.

She cited St. Clair County's settlement last year in a civil lawsuit. It stemmed from a 2013 arrest when an East St. Louis minor falsely confessed to armed robbery.

"He cried, he prayed, he got under the table and tried to hide from them, and tried his best to just make them leave him alone," Van Pelt said. "Finally he confessed and ended up sitting in jail."

The county denied any wrongdoing in that case.

Critics of Van Pelt's legislation, which include state's attorneys offices, have said they prefer to address the issue by simplify the wording of rights so that teens could more easily understand they have a right to a lawyer.

​ The legislation was debated on the senate floor, but not voted on. It's expected to return to the floor next week. Van Pelt pulled the measure to do further work and meet with other legislators.