Stopping Coerced Interrogation and False Confessions

Jun 22, 2021

All too often, police officers will lie to suspects during an interrogation about the facts of a case.  In fact, the Supreme Court in Frazier v. Cupp (1969), made it lawful for the police to present false evidence to a suspect during interrogations. Many times the police will tell the suspect that their blood was found at the scene, when blood evidence has not even been tested yet. Or, that the suspect fingerprints were found at the scene, when either there are no fingerprints found at the scene of a crime, or if there were fingerprints, the fingerprint evidence has not even been tested.  Police officers may tell the suspect that a witness identified them at the scene, when in fact there is no such witness. And then there is the promise of leniency, if the suspect cooperates in the investigation by providing a confession, they will go home.

These tactics, coupled with lengthy manipulative interrogations, and isolation make it more likely that a suspect will falsely confess to a crime they did not commit. Research shows that children are two to three times more likely than adults to falsely confess to a crime, according to a 2017 article published in the New York University Law Review. Because a confession carries significant weight in the eyes of a jury, there have been many instances where individuals confessed to a crime they did not commit, were later convicted, imprisoned, and later exonerated by DNA evidence, losing years or decades of their lives.

According to the Innocence Project, Illinois is known as the “False Confession Capital of the United States.” In Illinois, there have been 100 wrongful convictions predicated on false confessions, including 31 involving people under 18 years of age. Notable case from Illinois include the Englewood Four, the Marquette Park Four, the Dixmoor Five, and the Uptown Seven, all cases were the convictions were predicated on false confessions.

In the case of the Englewood Four, all four teenagers confessed to a brutal rape and murder they did not commit. DNA evidence exonerated them almost 20 years later. The City of Chicago ultimately settled the case for $31 million dollars and Cook County settled the case for $24 million dollars.

In the case of Marquette Park Four, the four boys signed false confessions after a 1995 double murder and armed robbery at a used car dealership. The four boys entered prison as teenagers and spent a collective 70 years in prison for a crime they did not commit. They were finally exonerated after fingerprint evidence conclusively proved their innocence. They are currently suing the City of Chicago.

In the case of the Dixmoor Five, the five defendants in the case were convicted or the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl as a result of their false confessions. The five were later exonerated by DNA evidence. Collectively the men entered prison as teenagers and spent 95 years in prison for a crime they did not commit. The State of Illinois settled the case for $40 million.

In the case of the Uptown Seven, Chicago police extracted false confessions from 7 men ranging in age from 15 to 22 years old for a double murder. The false confession were the result of psychological manipulation and physical deprivations— and in some cases, physical abuse or threats of physical abuse. Almost all of the suspects were held in locked, windowless interrogation rooms for long periods of time (some for as long as 28–30 hours) without clocks, often handcuffed to the wall, and some without bathroom breaks.  Before going to trial, the court suppressed two of the confessions and dismissed the charges against the suspects.   One of the suspects was acquitted after a jury trial.  However, not all of the suspects had the law on their side. One was convicted in a bench trial and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The others were convicted after jury trials in 1995 and sentenced to life in prison. It was not until 2014, when the State’s Attorney’s Office filed its own motion to vacate the convictions.

A new law passed by the Illinois legislature prohibits police from using any deceit, coercion, or other unethical interrogation tactics on juveniles.  Under the new law, if police lie to a juvenile during an interrogation about the facts of the case, like telling them a witness saw you do this, or if they lie about the consequences of confessing, telling them, just say you did it, and you get to go home, the juvenile’s confession will be thrown out.   Illinois is the first state in the United States to pass this kind of law, however, the legislatures in both Oregon and New York Have proposed similar laws to prevent the injustice caused by juvenile false confessions.

Be sure to stay tuned to the Coffman Law blog, as we will continue updating our readers on the latest and most important legal news.

About Coffman Law Offices, P.C.

Coffman Law is Chicago’s leading personal injury law firm and is committed to providing superb legal representation for people who are suffering from severe personal injuries or are dealing with the loss of a loved one due to police and/or correctional officer misconduct. Coffman Law is a results-driven law firm focused on ensuring that clients receive the compassion, attention, and consideration that they need to seek adequate compensation for injuries or loss. The firm is led by Owner and Founding Partner Brian Coffman, who has dedicated his career to helping accident victims navigate the legal system and obtain compensation for their injuries. If you have been injured or lost a loved one, contact Coffman Law today for a free consultation.