One evening in southern Illinois, a 17-year-old boy named Anthony sat at home. Suddenly, the police arrived, arresting Anthony in front of his family—without explaining why. Anthony has an IQ of 60—which places his cognition on par with a nine year old. The police officers understood his disadvantage. Nonetheless, once at the station, they got him to sign away his right to counsel and to remain silent.
Finally, they informed him that he was suspected of armed robbery. Over a two-hour interrogation, Anthony asserted 35 times that he did not commit the crime. The police told him 42 times that they had evidence linking him to the crime—which was a lie. During the tormenting interrogation, Anthony sobbed, begged for his mother and threatened suicide.
Ultimately, he admitted to a crime he didn’t commit. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison. He served nine months before a court review of his interrogation video got him released. The entire, harrowing ordeal could have been avoided altogether if Anthony had been given a lawyer from the start.
Cases like the one described above are not unique to Illinois. In fact, Illinois has the most progressive law in the country surrounding children’s rights to counsel—and their protection from unknowingly waiving those rights.
There is no state in the country that guarantees a child will always get a lawyer during interrogation. But Illinois is the only state that mandates a child be provided an attorney under certain circumstances. Specifically, a child must be accompanied by a lawyer during an interrogation if they are 14 years old or younger and charged with enumerated serious offenses.
Although—comparatively speaking—Illinois law offers the greatest protections to children who have been arrested, Anthony’s case demonstrates that these protections still allow for the manipulation and exploitation of children who have a limited understanding of the legal system and the consequences of their actions. And when children become victims of fear under hours of interrogation, they can be vulnerable to false confessions.
If you have a child who has been refused legal counsel or been pressured into confessing to a crime they didn’t commit, it’s important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to understand your options.