Investigators are barred from deceiving minors during police interrogations under a bill Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law Thursday, one piece of legislation in a package aimed at advancing “the rights of some of our most vulnerable” in the state’s criminal justice system.
“Together, this package of initiatives moves us closer to a holistic criminal justice system, one that builds confidence and trust in a system that has done harm to too many people for too long,” Pritzker said at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law.
Terrill Swift, one of the so-called “Englewood Four” accused of the rape and murder of Nina Glover in 1994, said police lied to him and his family — first about where they were taking him, then about the crime and his connection to the three others convicted of the killing.
Swift was 17 at the time. He spent 15 1/2 years in prison before he was exonerated.
“This bill, I truly believe, could have saved my life,” Swift said, choking up. “When it was first brought to me, it touched me in the sense that it could have saved my life.”
Pritzker signed three other pieces of legislation addressing parts of the criminal justice system, measures that:
• Allow state’s attorneys to petition a court to re-sentence someone whose original sentence “no longer advances the interests of justice.”
• Bar anything said or done during a restorative justice hearing — hearings between defendants and victims designed to repair the harm caused by the crime — from being used against someone in court unless that protection is waived.
• Create a re-sentencing task force to study ways to reduce the state’s prison population through re-sentencing motions.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx told the Chicago Sun-Times her office collaborated with the Innocence Project and For the People to draft the legislation banning the use of deceptive practices during the interrogation of minors and the bill that would allow county prosecutors to seek new sentences for offenders.
“It’s important for us to not just have proactive policies, but to go back and look at some of the harms that were caused by the things that happened before we got here,” Foxx said of the criminal justice reforms signed into law Thursday.
“We had so many wrongful convictions, particularly of youth, that were predicated on these practices of lying to children, where the science ... tells us about their susceptibility to those types of practices and the damage that can be done,” Foxx said.
“When we convict people who are not the people who have done the actual crime, it not only robs them of their lives, from their families and from their communities, it also allows the people who’ve actually committed the crimes to go free.”
State Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago, called the package of criminal justice legislation “a major step in the right direction.”
“We must not waste the potential of our fellow neighbors by locking them up and throwing away the key,” said Peters, a lead sponsor on all of the pieces of legislation signed Thursday.
“We see systemic failures over and over again. We’re promised public safety, and yet it seems like it’s something we chase over and over again,” Peters said. “Chicago sports teams have better draft records than tough-on-crime policies have on providing safety. It is time that we move towards a new era of public safety — public safety for all, public safety by the people, public safety that belongs to us.”
State Rep. Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago, who was a lead sponsor on the bills in the House. said no matter where people fall on the criminal justice reform spectrum, “we can all agree that innocent people should not be serving time in prison.”
Swift said while the new law will likely help minors avoid a situation like the one he faced, there is still work to be done to decrease wrongful convictions.
“The reality is, I can’t get what I lost back,” Swift said.
“We don’t need another Terrill Swift, Michael Saunders ... this happens so much and it’s something that needs to change. Granted, this bill passing is a great step, but we still have so much work to do.”