By Vanguard Staff
SACRAMENTO, CA – A CA measure that will shield youth from “coercive, manipulative and deceptive law-enforcement interrogation tactics” by law enforcement was signed into law this week by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The Juvenile Custodial Interrogations Reform bill makes California the fourth state in the country to “institute reforms” and “prevent false confessions, according to the California Innocence Coalition, which includes the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University School of Law, the California Innocence Project in San Diego, and the Loyola Project for the Innocent in Los Angeles.
The bill’s author, Chris Holden (D-District 41), said “existing law …does not protect youth from falsely implicating themselves or others in serious crimes when an interrogation involves coercive, manipulative, and guilt-presumptive techniques.”
The legislation, AB 2644, “prohibits law enforcement from using deception, false threats, physical harm, and psychologically manipulative tactics on youthful suspects during interrogations,” said the coalition, which said the ban followed a “well-documented link between these interrogation practices, false confession, and false implications of others.”
False confessions are “one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions of youth, accounting for roughly 25 percent of all convictions later overturned based on DNA evidence, according to the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth.
The Center notes, “Because of their incomplete brain development, young people are disproportionately prone to confessing to crimes they did not commit. Of the 274 people exonerated in California since 1989, 17 of them— all under 25—were wrongfully convicted due to false confessions; 77 percent of them were people of color.”
AB 2644, said the coalition’s press statement, “protects youth from known vulnerabilities to law-enforcement use of deceptive interrogation tactics that especially impact those with developing brains.”
“Juries give great weight to a confession and struggle to understand how someone could falsely implicate themselves in criminal conduct. AB 2644 begins to address the reality that law enforcements’ use of interrogation methods—including threats, physical harm, deception, or psychologically manipulative tactics—creates an incredibly high risk for eliciting a false confession from all suspects, particularly youth,” the Innocence Coalition argues.
The groups adds, “Research shows that a person’s brain is not fully developed until the age of 25, and that deceptive interrogation methods increase the risk of a false confession even for those older than 17. Use of these techniques can also lead youth to falsely implicate another.”
The Northern California Innocence Project notes “client Bob Fenenbock was exonerated after 28 years of wrongful incarceration, after a court found statements of a child witness to have been coerced by law enforcement, demonstrating this danger.”
The Project adds, “Terrill Swift—who testified about his wrongful conviction in Illinois after a coerced false confession at age 17—played an instrumental role in getting AB 2644 through the California Legislature.”
“I was apprehended; taken into custody; threatened; and basically psychologically manipulated into signing a confession for a rape and a murder of a person I did not know,” said Swift, who also helped secure the passage of similar legislation in Illinois.
“AB 2644 is a giant step toward reducing the risk of false confessions, while ensuring law enforcement is still able to carry on their investigations to solve crimes. Our hope is that the impetus for this legislation carries forward to reduce the use of deceptive tactics in all law enforcement interrogations, regardless of the interrogees’ age,” said Melissa O’Connell, staff attorney and policy liaison with the Northern California Innocence Project.
“When a wrongful conviction happens, so many people are impacted—the innocent, crime victims and their families, jurors, and society as a whole,” said Jasmin Harris, associate director of development and policy for the California Innocence Project. “This is a public safety issue—and AB 2644 is good-sense legislation to reduce the risks of that first domino falling.”