March 29, 2023

Senate bill that would make children’s statements mostly inadmissible if law enforcement lied to them passes first House vote

A bill that would largely make statements made by children inadmissible in court if they have been lied to by law enforcement passed a committee vote in the Indiana House Wednesday.  - Doug Jaggers/WFYI

A bill that would largely make statements made by children inadmissible in court if they have been lied to by law enforcement passed a committee vote in the Indiana House Wednesday.

Doug Jaggers/WFYI

A bill that would largely make statements made by children inadmissible in court if they have been lied to by law enforcement passed a committee vote in the Indiana House Wednesday.

Under current Indiana law, if a member of law enforcement knowingly lies about criminal evidence, information or consequences while interviewing a child, the child’s statement can be used against them. Senate Bill 415 would prohibit these statements from being included in court proceedings. The bill passed the full Senate last month, and the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee advanced the bill Wednesday with an 11-1 vote.

The bill’s author, Sen. Rodney Pol (D-Chesterton) said at a committee hearing last week that if juveniles are lied to, they are more likely to distrust the justice system and encounter it again in the future.

“There's a serious cognitive dissonance that sowed the seeds of distrust and telling the juvenile to believe in the justice system,” Pol said. “And that says it's wrong for you to lie to me, but it's OK for me to lie to you.”

The bill would not apply if police thought the information they told the juvenile was true at the time, but it was later found to be false. It would also not apply to evidence discovered as a result of the child’s statement.

Fabiana Alceste, a psychology professor at Butler University, also testified at last week’s committee hearing in support of the legislation. Alcenste specializes in false convictions and police interrogations. She said youth are especially susceptible to giving a false confession as their brains are not fully developed, and they may not perceive they are being lied to.

Indiana law allows juveniles to consult with a parent before speaking to police. Sen. Chris Jeter (R-Fishers), the only member of the committee to vote against the bill, said that protection is sufficient.

But supporters of the bill said that is not enough.

“We have no reason to expect that the average parent can see through police interrogation tactics significantly more clearly than minors,” Alceste said.

The bill will now move to a second reading in the House.

Contact WFYI criminal justice reporter Katrina Pross at kpross@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @katrina_pross.

Pross is a Corps Member of Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

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