After veto, Senate lacks the votes to ban deceptive police interrogations of young people
The Vermont Senate has decided to shelve legislation that would have made it illegal for police to use deception or coercion when interrogating anyone under the age of 23 after learning Tuesday that it didn’t have the votes to override Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of the bill.
Bennington County Sen. Dick Sears, the Democratic chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says lawmakers heard powerful testimony this year about the dangers of using deceptive tactics on younger offenders.
Research conducted by organizations such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police has found that developing brains “may be especially vulnerable to the pressures of interrogations.” And, according to the IACP, “False confessions are a leading cause of wrongful convictions of youth."
Sears said the use of deception or coercion in custodial interrogations increases the risk of a false confession. And while he still supports efforts to outlaw those tactics by law enforcement in Vermont, he said two-thirds of the Senate wasn’t ready to join him.
“Even though the majority of the committee wanted to go ahead with an override, we decided to refer it back to committee and work on the issues,” Sears said.
In his veto message to lawmakers, Scott said he doesn’t think law enforcement should be allowed to lie to children under the age of 18 during custodial interrogations.
But because the legislation prohibits the use of deceptive tactics on alleged offenders as old as 22, Scott said, the measure could rob law enforcement officials of important tools they need to investigate serious and violent crimes.
The Attorney General’s Office also raised concerns about the bill. In written testimony to lawmakers, Dominica Padula, chief of the Criminal Division, said the office “would be amenable to participating further conversations” about banning deceptive interrogation tactics on people under 18 years old.
Padula, however, said the office strongly opposes any similar prohibition on 18- to 21-year-olds.
“Our position is largely due to the importance of confessions and admissions in sexual assaults that happen on college campuses and child sexual abuse cases,” Padula said.
The Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union was among the organizations advocating in favor for of the bill. The ACLU of Vermont’s executive director, James Lyall, said in a written statement Tuesday that “police shouldn’t lie to children, or to anyone.”
“These practices are known to elicit false confessions, derail investigations, and result in wrongful convictions of innocent people,” Lyall said. “An extensive body of research confirms that youth are particularly susceptible to deceptive tactics, and that Black people and people of color are overrepresented in instances of false confessions and in exoneration databases.”
Sears said Wednesday that he plans to seek consensus support for similar legislation when lawmakers reconvene in January.
“And so the plan is to introduce a bill that is basically the same in terms of interrogation but maybe go to 19,” Sears said, “and see where the committee’s at.”
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