POLICE

Proposed bill would prohibit police from lying to children during interviews

Feb 3, 2022, 7:14 PM | Updated: 8:31 pm
Stock photo...
Stock photo

SALT LAKE CITY — Should police be allowed to lie to children to get information about the crimes they’re investigating?  Currently, officers are allowed to use deception to glean new details about a case. However, one lawmaker is proposing a bill that would prohibit police from lying to children.

Common practice: Lying to children

Legal analysts say it’s quite common for police to be deceptive with the people they’re interrogating, and that deception is an effective tool.  Former prosecutor Greg Skordas says many suspects have been pressured or deceived into making statements they normally wouldn’t make. And, in many states, it’s perfectly legal.

Skordas said, “They might overstate the strength of their case and tell the person they’re interrogating, ‘Hey, we’ve got evidence,’ or, ‘Your friend, your co-defendant has already given us a statement.’”

He understands if police are no longer allowed to be deceptive, they may feel like their investigation is being hindered.  However, Skordas says police are more likely to use deception on adults than children. Because kids are more likely to speak freely with police officers and other authority figure than grown-ups are. 

“Good police work doesn’t always require… and in the case of juveniles, rarely requires deception,” Skordas said.

Unreliable information

Whether or not police should be allowed to lie to interviewees, at all, is an ethical discussion that attorneys believe should happen.  However, Utah Juvenile Defender Attorneys Executive Director Pamela Vickrey says deception should not be used on children.  Officers may get the child to speak, but their information isn’t always reliable.

She said, “Kids actually make up a documented 1/3 of false confessions.”

If House Bill 171 were to pass, officers would not be able lie to kids about evidence in the case to try and get the suspects to incriminate themselves.  A previous version of the bill said any information gathered by deception during a “custodial interview” would be considered as “involuntary,” therefore inadmissible in court.  This would only apply to custodial interviews, which means the child is not at liberty to leave.

Vickrey says officers using deception on children may actually be hurting their own case.

“This is even [backed] by training organizations, with regard to police, that you might end up actually contaminating the young person’s memory,” she said.

Currently, a “friendly adult,” like a family member or family friend, has to be in the room as police interview children.  Vickrey believes that part of the law should be expanded so children also have a lawyer present while being questioned.

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