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Indiana Passes Law Prohibiting Police From Lying to Juveniles During Interrogation to Help Prevent False Confessions

by Miles Dyson

Indiana lawmakers have passed a new law that prohibits law enforcement from lying to juveniles during interrogations. The law, which was signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb on May 1, is designed to protect juveniles from making false confessions.

Under the new law, any statement made by a juvenile during a custodial interrogation in response to a materially false statement from a law enforcement officer is inadmissible in court, unless certain exceptions apply. The law defines a “materially false statement” as one that is “likely to influence a juvenile’s decision to make a statement.”

The bill, co-authored by Senator Rodney Pol Jr., a Democrat from Chesterton, and Senator Aaron Freeman, a Republican from Indianapolis, was drafted in collaboration with the Indiana Public Defender Council. Pol, who has a background in public defense, expressed concern about the use of false statements during interrogations and wanted to address the issue through legislation.

“Children and adolescents are less likely than adults to understand that an officer, who is a person in a position of authority, is permitted to engage in deception during an interrogation,” Pol said. “This law will help to ensure that juveniles are not wrongly convicted of crimes they did not commit.”

Under the new law, when a child is arrested or taken into custody on school property or during a school-sponsored activity, law enforcement officers must promptly notify the child’s parent, guardian, or emergency contact, unless specific circumstances exist. This provision aims to ensure that parents or responsible adults are informed when a child is involved in a law enforcement encounter at school.

With the ubiquity of technology and children’s online presence, Pol questioned the need for law enforcement to resort to lies to obtain information, particularly since minors often lack awareness of their rights in such situations.

According to Fabiana Alceste, an assistant professor of psychology at Butler University, approximately 30% of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA exonerations involve false confessions, with 31% of those false confessors being under 18 at the time of arrest. Alceste underscored that minors are more vulnerable to the pressures of interrogation, as their brain development is distinct from that of adults. Their prefrontal cortex, responsible for impulse control and self-regulation, does not fully develop until around the age of 25. Misleading information and suggestive techniques can lead to false confessions from juveniles.

The final version of the bill incorporated a “good faith exception.” It provides an exception “if a law enforcement officer or school resource officer communicates materially false information or a materially false statement with a reasonable good faith belief that the information was true at the time it was communicated to the juvenile.”

The law is a significant victory for juvenile justice advocates, who have long argued that juveniles are more vulnerable to police deception than adults. The law is also a sign of progress in the fight to end racial disparities in the criminal justice system, as juveniles of color are disproportionately likely to be interrogated by police.


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