Feb 9, 2024 - News

Bill to limit lying by police scaled back in Washington Legislature

Illustration of many magnifying glasses examining a police badge

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A proposal that aimed to limit police officers' ability to lie during interrogations of suspects has been dramatically scaled back in Washington's Legislature.

Why it matters: Experts say that police deception — such as telling someone of nonexistent evidence against them or suggesting they'll get leniency if they confess — can elicit false confessions that lead to wrongful convictions.

What's happening: A measure in the state House originally would have presumed statements to police are inadmissible if they are made during a custodial interrogation when officers use deception.

Yes, but: On Monday, those provisions were stripped from the bill.

  • Now, the proposal that's moving forward would mainly require that the state Criminal Justice Training Commission offer police departments training on "evidence-based, non-coercive interrogation techniques."

Catch up quick: Police groups and prosecutors opposed the initial version of the measure.

  • "Sometimes, it's an unfortunate reality, we have to lie to people to get them to tell the truth," James McMahan, lobbyist for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said during a public hearing last month.

Of note: The earlier bill would have still let police use deceptive tactics to safeguard undercover operations or protect the identities of confidential informants.

What they're saying: State Rep. Strom Peterson (D-Edmonds), the bill's prime sponsor, called limiting officers' use of deception "a matter of fairness" during the January hearing.

  • He said police ruses harm public safety by pushing people to confess to crimes they didn't commit, which can stop law enforcement from searching for the real criminals.
  • "Too often, innocent people are being arrested and convicted," Peterson said.

Plus: Amanda Knox, who spent four years in an Italian prison after initially being convicted of murder while studying abroad, spoke in support of the original bill.

  • Knox, a former University of Washington student, was acquitted in 2015.
  • Knox told lawmakers that during her more than 50 hours of interrogation, Italian police falsely told her some witnesses could place her at the scene and that there was significant evidence against her.
  • "I believe that if I had not been lied to by the police, none of this would have ever happened," Knox said. "I never would have been put on trial and I never would have gone to prison."

What's next: The stripped-down measure could soon be put to a vote in the House.

  • Even if the measure eventually passes, lawmakers would still need to come up with money for the state training program for it to take effect.
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