Sens. Gary Winfield and John Kissel debate the bill Credit: Christine Stuart photo

The state Senate voted Thursday to dissuade police from lying to minors during criminal interrogations through a bill making confessions secured using coercive tactics and “false facts” largely inadmissible in Connecticut courts. 

The chamber’s Democratic members sent the proposal to the House on a 24 – 12, party-line vote after debating the bill for more than an hour.

The legislation would create a rebuttable presumption that the confessions of people under 18 years-old were involuntary if the interrogating law enforcement officers used deceptive tactics like lying about evidence, the law, or making misleading promises in exchange for leniency. 

The rule would not be absolute. Confessions obtained through deception could be admissible if the state could prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that the admission was not induced by the tactics, which did not undermine the reliability of the suspect’s statements. 

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During an evening floor debate, Sen. Gary Winfield, a New Haven Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said the proposal was not an attempt to “get at the police” or make their jobs more difficult. 

“This is a studied approach to dealing with issues we have where our police are allowed — we’ve been to the Supreme Court, we know this — our police are allowed to communicate false facts, or in other terms, lie to folks and it does not necessarily equal justice,” Winfield said.

Connecticut, like most states, permits police to present false information during an interrogation. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the legality of deceptive interrogations back in 1969. However, a handful of states including Illinois and Oregon have since taken steps to rein in the practice. 

While proponents of the change say deceptive tactics lead to false confessions from scared teenagers and, eventually, wrongful convictions, its critics argue that it leaves law enforcement hamstrung and deprives police of needed flexibility. 

On Thursday, Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said the bill failed to balance the exigencies of law enforcement which could require getting to the truth in situations where “it’s a matter, quite literally, of life and death.”

Kissel offered a hypothetical scenario in which a bomb had been hidden by a terrorist and an officer was attempting to learn its location from a minor. 

“This building has hundreds of people located in it right now and I don’t know how many minutes are left on this bomb,” Kissel said. “I can’t even say something that I know is false, that is calculated to get information to let me know where that bomb is so that I can save everybody in the building?”

Winfield suggested that using deceptive tactics caused more harm than good. He pointed to the infamous Central Park jogger case, in which 28-year-old Trisha Meili was found in a coma, beaten, and raped in 1989. 

Police charged four Black and Latino teenagers — Antron McCray, 15, Kevin Richardson, 15, Yusef Salaam, 15, Raymond Santana, 14, and Korey Wise, 16 — after many of them confessed following hours of interrogation. Although they later argued their confessions were made under duress, the teens, later known as the Central Park Five, were convicted

DNA evidence later proved their innocence and the five men were eventually exonerated after spending years behind bars on wrongful convictions. 

Winfield said he felt a personal connection to the case: in 1989, he was 15 and living in the Bronx and was hanging out in Central Park just two days before the jogger was attacked. It could have been him that wound up in an interrogation room. 

“Because time was of the essence, it was important and we had to get it right. Except that we got it wrong,” Winfield said. “We locked up people and the person who did it was not caught. That’s what this is about.”