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Bill to discourage Colorado police from lying to minors advances in House committee

Lawmakers worry juveniles respond differently to law enforcement than adults
Colorado Capitol building. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press file)

The House Judiciary Committee at the Colorado Legislature advanced a bill Tuesday that would raise the admissibility standards of statements made by juveniles in court, a second legislative effort that seeks to prevent police from lying to minors during interrogations.

House Bill 23-1042 passed along party lines in the committee, with the nine Democrats voting in favor and the four Republicans voting against.

If passed, the bill would make statements obtained from juveniles inadmissible in court if law enforcement used deceptive tactics, such as lying to the minor about incriminating evidence, during an interrogation. The prosecution would need to prove that the statement was made voluntarily to use it in court.

“Young people process things differently,” bill sponsor state Rep. Jennifer Bacon, a Denver Democrat, said during the committee hearing. “Their relationships to adults matter. The way they understand authority and understand the impact to their own liberty is not the same as an adult.”

The bill is also sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Said Sharbini of Brighton and state Sen. Julie Gonzales of Denver. It would also require that law enforcement record all interrogations with minors, and it would require the development of training for officers who interrogate juveniles. A fiscal note estimated that the training would cost about $30,000.

“We want to make sure that what is being done is above board,” Sharbini said.

A similar bill last year died at the end of session. That bill, however, outright prohibited law enforcement from using deceptive tactics when interrogating children.

Bacon said that when law enforcement use deceptive tactics, juveniles can feel confused, fearful and, in the worst cases, lead to the suspect admitting to crimes they did not commit in order to get out of the stressful interrogation. She pointed to a study from the National Registry of Exonerations that showed 38% of juveniles who were exonerated for crimes over a 25-year period gave false confessions, compared to 11% of adults.

She said when juveniles are subjected to these techniques, they can be emotionally and psychologically traumatized and develop a mistrust of the justice system, particularly in the Black community.

“Is this a tool that has an impact beyond just its simple use when it comes to trust? Is this a tool that can also evolve?” she said. “It is not an indictment, but this bill is putting on the table that there are impacts we should care about as a matter of public policy and as a matter of public safety.”

Lorenzo Montoya testified Tuesday that as a 14-year-old he confessed to a murder he did not commit after police told him there was crime-scene evidence that proved his guilt. He was convicted of murder and served 13 years in prison before he was exonerated.

“I was told that I would be going to prison for life if I didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear,” he told committee members. “I was tricked by all of their lies. I hope you can stop that from happening to others.”

Law enforcement officials, who were also against last session’s version of the legislation, strongly opposed the bill during Tuesday’s hearing, arguing that the interrogation technique is a best practice that is used sparingly and that there are already protections in place for minors.

“The very name of this bill implies that these are unethical practices on the part of law enforcement. However, these are ethical, best practice interviewing techniques that allow law enforcement to get information,” said Arvada Police Chief Ed Brady, referring to the Admissibility Standards For Juvenile Statements bill.

Brady said the goal of deceptive interviewing tactics is never to get a false confession but rather to persuade the suspect of sharing information he or she might not otherwise give up.

The bill now heads to the Appropriations Committee.

To read more stories from Colorado Newsline, visit www.coloradonewsline.com.