Lack of Legal Aid in Chicago
Recently, a number of reports have surfaced that the Chicago Police have been interrogating children and adults, in the absence of their advocates. This month, Cook County prosecutors in Chicago dropped charges against 15 men, based on police misconduct, and two others claiming innocence won a new trial based on false confessions. A certain newspaper, even went to the lengths of calling this as a largest mass exoneration in Cook County history.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, Illinois has a false confession rate more than three times higher than the national average—and nearly 84 percent of the false confession cases in Illinois come from Cook County. Millions are spent in settlements in false confession cases, and the lives of innocent people and their families are forever altered, if not ruined.
False confessions do not only inhibit the proper provision of justice, but also acts as an unfair means to act on part of the police authorities. The role of the prosecutor is not to convict, but to seek justice. Justice is based on fairness, which means ensuring that the rights of all are protected throughout the process.
By convicting an innocent man, the police authorities also keep the society, at a high risk, as the actual offender is still left at large.
An examination by the Police Accountability Task Force of arrests in Chicago in 2014 and 2015 found that less than one percent of all arrested persons, including adults and juveniles, had the assistance of a lawyer at any point during interrogation.
Further, troubled by the lack of legal assistance for children during interrogation, the Illinois Legislature unanimously approved a reform requiring lawyers throughout interrogation for children under the age of 15 in serious cases, and required the videotaping of all felony interrogations of all children, which was adopted from the original proposal to provide lawyers to all children under age 18.
Lawyers are essential. Police agree and police contracts contain numerous protections including access to a lawyer and limits on custodial interrogation to protect the rights of police during questioning and withstand complaints about their conduct.