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Swearing to Tell the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth

Illinois has been called the false confession capital of the United States.[1]  Our state boasts one hundred wrongful convictions based on false confessions, and, even more shocking, thirty-one of those involved minors.[2]  In July 2021, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a sweeping criminal reform bill into law.[3]  This bill had many historic aspects, such as the end of cash bail and the beginning of universal body cameras on police.[4]  Perhaps most historic though was the fact that Illinois became the first state in our country to ban deceptive techniques during police interrogations of minors.[5]

Police are trained to employ a variety of techniques to question suspects, but the most common is the Reid Technique.[6]  This involves three parts: factual analysis, interviewing, and interrogation.[7]  More specifically, the interrogation part can look very different depending on the goals and approach of the officer.[8]  Police are trained to develop a theme of the case, discourage denials, and close physical distance between themselves and the suspect.[9]  While some police tactics can get downright ridiculous, such as putting a suspect’s hand on a photocopy machine and claiming that it is a “Truth Machine” that will reveal if the suspect is being honest or not,[10]  police also use seemingly innocent techniques as well. They are also trained to pose questions in a way where the suspect cannot deny their involvement, such as “Did you plan this thing out, or did it just happen on the spur of the moment?”[11]  Critics say that the Reid technique in particular takes a “guilt-presumptive” approach, which can create a “slippery slope for innocent suspects.”[12]  The most troubling tactics that police use are deceptive ones, such as promising leniency or falsely claiming the existence of incriminating evidence.[13]

Police interrogation is “coercive by design.”  In fact, suspects who did nothing wrong are more likely to meet with police and speak honestly because of their true innocence.[15]  In particular, juveniles are more vulnerable to pressures of police questioning because of both the inherent power imbalance and the fact that children’s minds are not fully developed.[16]  It has been shown that juveniles fundamentally misunderstand Miranda warnings,[17] leading child psychologists to ask whether children are even competent at all to make a “knowing, intelligent, and voluntary” Miranda waiver.[18]  Because juvenile suspects are not equipped to deal with a police interrogation situation, they are two to three times more likely to falsely confess than adults.[19]  In fact, one study showed that forty-two percent of children in the study were found to have given a false confession, while only thirteen percent of adults did the same.[20]  Laura Nirider, Co-Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, explained that “[m]any children who falsely confess do so because they are told downright falsehoods during interrogation, . . . like ‘Your DNA was found at the scene,’ or ‘If you confess, you’ll get to go home.’ ”[21]

Juvenile false confessions have a particularly rocky history in Chicago.  In 1994, four Black teenagers were convicted of the rape and murder of Nina Glover in Englewood.[22]  All four teenagers falsely confessed or falsely implicated one another.[23]  Vincent Thames, age 18, was lied to by police and threated with physical violence.  Harold Richardson, age 16, was told by police that he had been found “in front of the crime scene.”[25]  Police also threatened to kill him if he did not confess.[26]  Michael Saunders, age 15, was physically beaten, threatened with a gun, and lied to by police.[27]  Terrill Swift, age 17 at the time of his arrest, was also coerced into falsely confessing to the crime.[28]  Police “misstated their purpose” to Swift’s parents to get him to the police station, isolate him, and interrogate him for hours.[29]  There were “false promises of leniency”[30] and repeated assurances that “if [Terrill signed the confession [that police had written for him], he would be free to go home.”[31]  Police also told him that if he did not sign the false confession, he would go to prison for the rest of his life.[32]  Officers showed Terrill statements that they themselves had prepared for the other three teens to sign, falsely claiming that the others had already implicated themselves and Terrill.[33]  Throughout the entire interrogation, Terrill repeatedly stated that he was innocent and had no knowledge of the crime.[34]  Officers then took Terrill to the Sherman Park lagoon and “guaranteed . . . that if he pointed somewhere towards the lagoon, he would be allowed to go home.”[35]  But this was a lie, and officers later claimed they found a shovel used in the murder in the area that Terrill pointed towards.[36]  At no point during any of these interrogations did Terrill have an attorney present.[37]

In 2011, the Englewood Four were officially cleared due to DNA evidence that linked a serial sex offender and killer to the crime.[38]  This is unfortunately far from the only case in Chicago involving wrongful convictions due to false confessions of juveniles.  The Marquette Park Four were four Black teenagers convicted of a double murder in 1995, based solely on their false confession and without any physical evidence linking them to the crime.[39]  The Dixmoor Five spent a combined ninety-five years in prison for falsely confessing to the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl in 1991.[40]  They were also later exonerated through DNA evidence.[41]  The Uptown Seven are less well-known, but as teenagers, they were the subject of the single largest false confession event in Chicago history.[42]

Despite its sordid past, Illinois is taking steps to right past wrongs.  First, Illinois passed a law in 2016 that mandates videotaping of all juvenile interrogations by police.[43]  Now combined with a ban on police lying to minors, juvenile suspects across the state are more protected from deceptive techniques that could cause a false confession.  A better and more just world is possible, and now Illinois is one step closer to achieving that goal.

[1] Illinois Becomes the First State to Ban Police From Lying to Juveniles During Interrogations, Innocence Proj. (July 15, 2021),

[2] Id.

[3] Jaclyn Diaz, Illinois is the First State to Tell Police They Can’t Lie to Minors in Interrogations, Nat’l Pub. Radio (July 16, 2021),

[4] Dan Petrella, Illinois becomes first state to ban police from lying to minors during interrogations amid ongoing criminal justice overhaul under Pritzker, Chicago Trib. (July 15, 2021),

[5] Diaz, supra note 2.

[6] James Orlando, Interrogation Techniques, OLR Rsch. Rep., (last visited Nov. 15, 2021); see generally Ariel Spierer, The Right to Remain A Child: The Impermissibility of the Reid Technique in Juvenile Interrogations, 92 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 1719 (2017) (explaining how the Reid Technique can lead to higher numbers of false confessions in minors).

[7] Orlando, supra note 6.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Laurie Magid, Deceptive Police Interrogation Practices: How Far is Too Far?, 99 Mich. L. Rev. 1168, 1168 (2001).

[11] Orlando, supra note 6.

[12] Id.

[13] Diaz, supra note 2.

[14] Nathan Akamine, Should juveniles be allowed to waive miranda rights?, Akamine Law, (last visited Nov. 15, 2021); Juvenile Miranda Waiver and Parental Rights, 126 Harv. L. Rev. 2359, 2359 (2013) [hereinafter Juvenile Miranda Waiver].

[15] Juvenile Miranda Waiver, supra note 14, at 2360-61 (citing Saul M. Kassin & Rebecca J. Norwick, Why People Waive Their Miranda Rights: The Power of Innocence, 28 Law & Hum. Behav. 211, 217–18 (2004)).

[16] Juvenile Miranda Waiver, supra note 14, at 2359 (citing Saul M. Kassin et al., Police-Induced Confessions: Risk Factors and Recommendations, 34 Law & Hum. Behav. 3, 19–20 (2010)).

[17] Juvenile Miranda Waiver, supra note 14, at 2360 (citing Thomas Grisso, Juveniles’ Capacities to Waive Miranda Rights: An Empirical Analysis, 68 Calif. L. Rev. 1134, 1166 (1980)); see generally Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966) (establishing that suspects have a right to silence and counsel during police interrogations); see also Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 241 (1969) (holding that a Miranda waiver is only valid if it was made knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily).

[18] Juvenile Miranda Waiver, supra note 14, at 2360 (citing Barry C. Feld, Police Interrogation of Juveniles: An Empirical Study of Policy and Practice, 97 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 219, 228 (2006)).  If children cannot make their own medical decisions or consent to sexual encounters, then why are Miranda warnings different?

[19] Spierer, supra note 6, at 1731 (citing Megan Crane et al., The Truth About Juvenile False Confessions, Insights On L. & Soc’y 12 (2016)).

[20] Spierer, supra note 6, at 1731 (citing Crane, supra note 19, at 12).

[21] Petrella, supra note 4.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] See Vincent Thames, Nat’l Reg. of Exonerations, (last visited Nov. 15, 2021) (explaining Thames’s alleged role in the murder); Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint at 15-16, Swift v. City of Chicago, 2012 WL 13028259 (Ill Cir. Ct. 2012) (No. 2012-L-012995) [hereinafter Swift Complaint].

[25] See Harold Richardson, Nat’l Reg. of Exonerations, (last visited Nov. 15, 2021) (explaining Richardson’s alleged role in the murder); Swift Complaint, supra note 24, at 16-17.

[26] Richardson, supra note 25; Swift Complaint, supra note 24, at 16-17.

[27] See Michael Saunders, Nat’l Reg. of Exonerations, (last visited Nov. 15, 2021) (explaining Saunders’s alleged role in the murder); Swift Complaint, supra note 24, at 18.

[28] Swift Complaint, supra note 24, at 12.

[29] Id. at 12.

[30] Id. at 13.

[31] Id.

[32] Tony Cox, After 15 Years in Prison, Hope for Chicagoans, Nat’l Pub. Radio (Nov. 23, 2011),

[33] Swift Complaint, supra note 24, at 13.

[34] Id. at 13-14.

[35] Id. at 14.

[36] Id. at 14-15.

[37] Cox, supra note 32.

[38] Swift Complaint, supra note 24, at 6-7.

[39] Sarah Schulte, ‘Marquette Park 4’ sue CPD after wrongful convictions, abc7 News (Feb. 12, 2018),

[40] The Dixmoor Five, Ctr. on Wrongful Convictions, (last visited Nov. 15, 2021).

[41] Id.

[42] Steven A Drizin (@sdrizin), Twitter (Sept. 11, 2020),

[43] Melissa Sanchez, Juveniles in police custody get more legal protections in Illinois, Chicago Rep. (Aug. 2, 2016),