Po­lice in­ter­roga­tors need clear guide­lines on when sleep de­pri­va­tion amounts to tor­ture

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION -

The In­ter­na­tional Chiefs of Po­lice rec­om­mends that po­lice of­fi­cers get at least 48 hours to rest up be­fore they are in­ter­viewed about an in­ci­dent in which they were in­volved.

But that stan­dard does not ap­ply to crime sus­pects and wit­nesses, who of­ten are in­ter­ro­gated for many hours while in a state of ex­treme sleep de­pri­va­tion. In the in­ter­est of true jus­tice, Illi­nois should set a clear stan­dard for how long wit­nesses and sus­pects can be ques­tioned be­fore they are al­lowed to get some rest.

On Aug. 19, the Illi­nois Tor­ture In­quiry and Re­lief Com­mis­sion re­ferred a sleep de­pri­va­tion case to the Cook County Cir­cuit Court for a fresh look be­cause a di­a­betic sus­pect had been kept awake for 27 to 28 hours be­fore sign­ing a con­fes­sion. The com­mis­sion had found cred­i­ble ev­i­dence that the sleep de­pri­va­tion amounted to tor­ture and sent the case to the Cir­cuit Court to see if the con­vic­tion should be over­turned. TIRC also has re­ferred the case to the Cook County state’s at­tor­ney’s Con­vic­tion In­tegrity Unit.

In 1998, Je­sus Mo­rales got a life sen­tence for the 1995 con­tract killing of Kedric Bell, who had been sent to Chicago by a Mi­ami drug dealer to col­lect $200,000. Af­ter 27 to 28 hours of be­ing kept awake, with a nap of less than an hour, Mo­rales signed a lengthy con­fes­sion. One of the de­tec­tives who ar­rested Mo­rales had worked un­der for­mer Po­lice Cmdr. Jon Burge for a por­tion of his ca­reer and has been ac­cused of mis­con­duct 18 times, in­clud­ing a court find­ing that he was among de­tec­tives who tor­tured now-ex­on­er­ated mur­der sus­pect Dar­rell Can­non and then lied about it un­der oath. Although Mo­rales had made two self-in­crim­i­nat­ing state­ments ear­lier in his in­ter­ro­ga­tion, a Cir­cuit Court judge will have to de­cide whether the signed con­fes­sion it­self is valid.

The ev­i­dence is in

Re­search has shown that sleep de­pri­va­tion can lead to false con­fes­sions. Ex­ces­sive sleep de­pri­va­tion, a tech­nique that has been used by the CIA, can amount to tor­ture.

“The re­search has shown for years that the longer one in­ter­ro­gates a sus­pect the higher the risk of false con­fes­sions,” said Steven A. Drizin, a North­west­ern Univer­sity law pro­fes­sor and edi­tor of the book “True Sto­ries of False Con­fes­sions.”

That’s not to say po­lice should send wit­nesses and sus­pects home for a good night’s sleep be­fore in­ter­ro­gat­ing them right af­ter a crime has oc­curred. Po­lice need the fresh­est in­ter­view they can get can be­fore mem­o­ries fade and be­fore wit­nesses or sus­pects can be in­flu­enced, know­ingly or not, by ex­ter­nal sources.

But sus­pects of­ten are ar­rested well af­ter a crime has taken place. Keep­ing them awake for the sole pur­pose of elic­it­ing a con­fes­sion runs the risk, at min­i­mum, that the con­fes­sion will be un­re­li­able. A 2016 ex­per­i­ment showed peo­ple who were up for more than 24 hours were 4½ times more likely to sign a false con­fes­sion than peo­ple who had slept eight hours.

“I think [the study] showed [peo­ple] are more im­pul­sive in their de­ci­sion-mak­ing when they have less sleep,” said Shari R. Berkowitz, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of crim­i­nal jus­tice ad­min­is­tra­tion at Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity, Dominguez Hills, who was one of the study’s authors. “They are go­ing to be more quick to waive rights, more quick to agree to sign a state­ment and af­firm what an in­ter­roga­tor says. … There should not be any in­ten­tional use of sleep de­pri­va­tion as a tac­tic for in­ter­ro­ga­tion.”

De­fine ‘sleep de­pri­va­tion’

Po­lice need clear stan­dards. Let­ting po­lice make their own judg­ments can lead to bad out­comes in some cases. Sleep de­pri­va­tion plays a big role dur­ing lengthy in­ter­ro­ga­tions, and po­lice de­part­ments know this.

The Chicago Po­lice Depart­ment pro­hibits un­nec­es­sary sleep de­pri­va­tion, but doesn’t de­fine what that is. TIRC rec­om­mended that the po­lice depart­ment clar­ify its reg­u­la­tions and also rec­om­mended the Cook County state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice clar­ify its prac­tices.

Case law is all over the map. In 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court said 36 hours of sleep de­pri­va­tion was “in­her­ently co­er­cive” and that it is “the most ef­fec­tive [method of ] tor­ture.” But in a dif­fer­ent case in 1968, the court said 14¼ hours, com­bined with other fac­tors, was co­er­cive. Illi­nois ap­pel­late courts have some­times ruled 24-hour in­ter­ro­ga­tions with­out sleep were co­er­cive, but some­times the courts said they weren’t.

The po­lice depart­ment, state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice and Illi­nois Leg­is­la­ture need to pro­vide guid­ance on this is­sue.


SHARI R. BERKOWITZ, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor, Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity, Dominguez Hills

Je­sus Mo­rales

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