Juvenile Counsel at the Station House

Did you know that children could be interrogated by police without an attorney in Illinois?

While the numbers of children under 18 arrested for murder statewide are small, (e.g., 108 in CY2012), the consequences of their statements to police are profound. Mere accountability (being present at or near scene of incident) can immediately trigger adult court prosecution and lengthy adult sentence. Once they’re charged with murder, they are instantly in adult court with no review and no way to get back to juvenile court.

Until January 1 of this year, the law required only that a parent be notified (not present) and that a child be given Miranda warnings prior to questioning by police in a homicide investigation. There was no requirement that an attorney be present to advise the minor of the consequences of a statement – especially the consequences of adult court trial and sentencing. The evidence is clear that many children ended up confessing – falsely.

On August 22, 2016, Governor Rauner advanced justice for children by signing SB2370 into law. Public Act 99-0882 took effect Jan. 1, 2017. This bill passed out of both chambers unanimously and served to:

  • raise the age from 13 to 15 for a requirement that children be represented by lawyers during custodial interrogations for homicide and sex offenses
  • require videotaping all interrogations of children under age 18 for any felony and or some misdemeanor cases, and
  • include a uniform “Miranda warning”

Less than 1% of Chicagoans have lawyer during interrogation – The Chicago Police Accountability Task Force found last Spring that less than 1% of children and adults have lawyers during custodial interrogation.

Children do not understand their rights during interrogation – Research has shown that children do not understand the “Miranda warning” and they do not understand the implications of making a statement to the police. Research also shows children are more likely than adults to make a false confession. Children should not be allowed to waive their constitutional right to legal counsel without the advice of a lawyer.

While we do not believe this bill goes far enough – we think all children should be represented by legal counsel while being interrogated by the police, as is done in the U.K. and in Europe – we do believe this bill is a significant step forward toward justice for all our children.

Illinois, the home of the world’s first juvenile court, continues its bi-partisan march forward to ensure justice and equity for all our children in conflict with the law.

Learn more about juvenile counsel during police interrogation: