Less than two months into his first term, state Rep. Scott Drury introduced two bills he hoped would address a persistent failure of the state's justice system — wrongful convictions.
Drury, a former federal prosecutor, represents part of Lake County, which has a history of convicting the wrong men. He wants police to record more interrogations and use lineup methods intended to keep officers from steering eyewitnesses toward specific suspects. He hopes to reduce false confessions and mistaken identifications, both of which have sent many innocent people to prison.
Law enforcement authorities agree those are worthy goals, but the bills appear unlikely to pass before lawmakers go home at the end of May.
The legislation faces resistance from agencies including the Chicago Police Department and Cook County state's attorney's office. Prosecutors say the recording proposal is logistically unrealistic, and police say the lineup measure is impractical and could hinder witness cooperation.
Drury argues the bills will help authorities make stronger cases while preventing misconduct and unintentional police errors, but he and the agencies haven't found consensus on either proposal.
On the recording bill, prosecutors and Drury agree more interrogations should be audio- or videotaped to shield suspects from coercion and block bogus police abuse claims. Law enforcement groups and reform advocates praise a 2003 law mandating recording of interrogations in homicides and agree the requirement should be expanded.
They just haven't reached agreement on what else should be taped.
"The devil is in the details," said Daniel Kirk, chief of staff to Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.
The state Senate, meanwhile, passed a bill Thursday that takes a softer approach to having more interrogations recorded, relaxing rules governing voluntary taping in hopes police will choose to do it more often. That's not enough, Drury said.
"If we want to prevent wrongful convictions and we want to prevent the next (former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon) Burge, we need to require recording of more interrogations," he said.
A leader in bad cases
Drury, a Democrat from Highwood elected in November, described Lake County's spate of wrongful convictions as "horrible." Four defendants in major felony cases there have been exonerated by DNA evidence since 2010.
Three of the cases suggest the drawbacks of not recording police interrogations, in that the suspects confessed after long questioning sessions they claim were abusive. None was recorded because the cases all came before the homicide interrogation-recording law took effect in 2005. Potentially pricey lawsuits against authorities are pending in two of those cases.
Illinois is responsible for roughly 10 percent of the 1,102 known exonerations nationwide since 1989, more than every state except Texas and California, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the Northwestern University and University of Michigan law schools.
Of Illinois' 115 exonerations, 86 were in Cook County. Suspects confessed in 32 cases, while 42 involved a mistaken witness identification, the registry shows.
Benefits, challenges of recording interrogations
The Innocence Project in New York sees recording as "the single most effective reform in dealing with the problem of false confessions," said co-founder Peter Neufeld.
Recordings, advocates note, provide a definitive account of an interrogation, preventing overly aggressive questioning, shielding police from abuse claims and preventing expensive court proceedings sometimes needed to determine what happened in an interview room.
Ten years ago, Illinois became the first state to pass a law requiring recorded homicide interrogations, a fix pushed by then-state Sen. Barack Obama as lawmakers grappled with faulty death penalty cases.
Now, 16 states and the District of Columbia go beyond Illinois' rule, requiring the recording of interrogations of people in custody for crimes other than homicide, said Chicago attorney Thomas Sullivan, a recording proponent who has helped Drury.