Deception by law enforcement during interrogations is common practice in popular TV shows. Watchers will often see these scenes and applaud the depicted officers for their cunning and ingenuity when it results in an astounding conviction.
These popular portrayals are, unfortunately, often deceiving in their own right. What fails to be conveyed in these popular scenes is that in many places across the country police are legally permitted to lie to minors to coerce confessions and subsequent convictions.
Now, this might not immediately sound that problematic — although maybe it should — but this fact ultimately becomes an issue when these confessions commonly turn out to be untrue.
When a child is interrogated by police for an alleged crime, it can be extremely intimidating. Not only is this an adult questioning them, but one in uniform who kids are taught to respect and look up to.
When you throw officers’ ability to lie into the mix, it becomes all the more complicated and can lead to false confessions by minors. This is saddening as these false confessions often result in the conviction and sentencing of innocent children to prison.
This robs bright, young, and energetic children of their childhood, education, and support systems.
This is an egregious miscarriage of justice and needed to be remedied within the state.
This year Representative Ryan Wilcox took aim at this issue by sponsoring House Bill 171. This bill will end the practice of juvenile deception by law enforcement in Utah.
The bill says, if a child is subject to custodial interrogation for an offense, an officer or individual interrogating on behalf of law enforcement “may not engage in deception.” This includes communicating false facts about evidence and making unauthorized statements about leniency for an offense.
If deception is used during the interrogation, any statement made by the child is presumed to be involuntary, meaning it cannot be used against them in court.
This bill works to protect minors under the age of 18 from falsely confessing to a crime they didn’t commit without handicapping law enforcement’s ability to obtain well-founded confessions and convictions.
We commend Representative Wilcox for sponsoring this bill and helping create positive criminal justice changes within Utah.