By H. Michael Steinberg Colorado Criminal Lawyer
Introduction – Understanding Colorado’s New Law – Stopping The Police from Lying to Juveniles in Criminal Investigations
In Colorado adult criminal investigations the police are allowed to lie to, mislead, and otherwise trick their targets. That has been the law for quite some time.
Until very recently, as a result of some great work by the Colorado State Legislature, it was also true that the police could mislead juvenile crimes suspects in exactly the same way.
In 2023, (effective August 7, 2023), Governor Jared Polis signed HB23-1042 – Admissibility Standards For Juvenile Statements. The new law prohibits police officers from lying to minors during interrogations. (See Section 19-2.5-203 Statements – reprinted below).
It is common knowledge that young children and teenagers are unusually vulnerable to coercion and manipulation during criminal investigations. Most young people are easily intimidated by the police and can be made to feel, because of an obvious imbalance of power, as if they have no choice but to cooperate. When police officers use lies and deception, minors can easily be coerced into providing false admissions or false evidence that may lead to a wrongful conviction.
This blog post is intended to provide you with a deeper understanding of this new law and its implications for juveniles under investigation for criminal acts in Colorado.
What follows is the official summary of the new law:
The act makes any statement or admission obtained during a juvenile custodial interrogation by a law enforcement official or agent who knowingly communicated any untruthful information or belief to the juvenile to be presumptively inadmissible against the juvenile at trial, unless the prosecution, in an evidentiary hearing prior to trial, proves by a preponderance of the evidence that:
based on the totality of the circumstances that the statement or admission was made voluntarily, despite the untruthful information or belief used to obtain the statement or admission, or
that the law enforcement official agent in good faith reasonably believed the information or belief was true at the time it was used.
In assessing the totality of the circumstances, the Judge shall consider all evidence presented concerning the juvenile’s vulnerability to any untruthful information or belief used during the custodial interrogation.
The act also requires law enforcement officials or agents to electronically record all juvenile custodial interrogations.
Breaking News: The Colorado Juvenile Justice System Is Flawed
The Colorado juvenile justice system can be overwhelming for juveniles. Children feel powerless and vulnerable when dragged into the system and this is especially during the criminal investigation phase.
Before HB23-1042 was enacted in August of 2023, police officers could legally use the same deceptive tactics that are permitted against adult targets. Lying to minors during investigative questioning has become common – but hopefully, after this change, such tactics will be abolished.
The states vary widely on the ethical standards that law enforcement officers are expected to follow within criminal investigations. All states, however, at a minimum, must provide the same constitutional rights to juveniles as apply to adults. Colorado, unlike some of the states, have a few enhanced protections such as the requirement for Miranda warnings to be administered to BOTH the parent AND the juvenile when that juvenile is questioned in custody.
A Closer Look At The New Law – The So Called “Deceptive Tactics”
In a nutshell, Colorado House Bill 1042 makes any statements obtained from juveniles during custodial interrogations inadmissible in court if law enforcement knowingly presented untruthful information to the juvenile during the interrogation — unless the prosecution can prove the statement was made voluntarily regardless of the untruthful information.
The new Colorado law prohibits police officers and other law enforcement personnel from lying to minors during interrogations. Specifically, the law states that “a peace officer shall not use deceptive tactics during an interrogation of a minor”.
The kind of deceptive tactics include such things as making promises of leniency or immunity, making false statements, exaggerating the evidence against the minor, or using any other form of deception to elicit information from the minor.
The new law applies to minors who are 18 years or younger.
The Problem Of False Confessions
When the police lie to minors and use the same intimidation techniques that are used on adults, …children are much more likely to confess to a crime or crimes they didn’t commit out of fear or confusion.
Promises for leniency combined with fake proof of other evidence may quickly result in a false confession.
According to a research conducted by the National Registry of Exonerations in 2022, 34 percent of the 268 adolescents who were exonerated for crimes had given false confessions that they had committed. In comparison, just ten percent of people who were exonerated provided fake admissions or statements. For those between the ages of 14 and 15, the prevalence of false confessions jumped to 54%, while for those younger than 14 years old, the rate increased to 78%.
One of the authors of the new bill, Senator Julie Gonzales puts it this way:
“False confessions harm the person giving the confession, as well as our public safety…”
“Currently, Colorado law tells us that we are okay with law enforcement lying to children, that we are okay with innocent children ending up behind bars”
The use of threats, bluffs, and trickery have always been a part of the “police toolbox” for the investigation of crime.The dominant technique used in police interrogations, the Reid technique is “guilt-presumptive,” meaning the primary purpose is to get suspects to implicate themselves or to confess.
The Reid technique, which was devised by a former police officer and polygraph expert, has increasingly been the subject of scrutiny by scholars and lawyers who say that research and ongoing exonerations have shown it leads to false confessions.
Critics charge that the Reid method and similar practices involve interrogators pressuring and intimidating suspects, making it seem as if the police have proof of guilt, “minimizing” the seriousness of crime and potential consequences, and presenting confession as the easiest way out of the situation.
According to John E. Reid and Associates, the company that developed the Reid technique and provides training to investigators on how to use it, the majority of false confessions are the result of the police NOT following its methods. The alternative methods they refer to include false promises of leniency, excessively long interrogations, and denials of physical necessities, such as bathroom breaks.
Others disagree. The Reid technique has been described as capitalizing on the fear and the weaknesses of the person who is sitting in front of the interrogator. For children the impact of these techniques has a much more devastating impact.
“Juveniles and young adults confess more readily than older adults because young people are less mature, less likely to have prior experience with law enforcement, less likely to understand their Miranda rights, more likely to waive their Miranda rights, more likely to comply with the demands of authority figures, and less able to resist police pressure,”
The Case That Started It All – Frazier v. Cupp (1969)
Admittedly, deception can form an important part of an effective interrogation.
In the United States, there is no law or regulation that forbids the interrogator from lying about the strength of their case, from making misleading statements or from implying that the interviewee has already been implicated in the crime by someone else. Wikipedia
In the case of Frazier v. Cupp (1969), the Supreme Court ruled that it was permissible for law enforcement to offer evidence that was not true. Since then, the Supreme Court has not reconsidered this matter, despite the fact that it has conducted a vast amount of research and that thousands of people have been wrongfully convicted. It is for this reason that lawmakers need to intervene in order to make things right.
The Need For Trust And Credibility In Law Enforcement
There is another reason to ban the practice of lying to and manipulating juvenile suspect – trust.
Maintaining trust between law enforcement and the community is crucial for effective community policing. When police officers lie to juvenile suspects, it erodes trust and credibility not only with the individual involved but also with the community at large. This can and will hinder cooperation with law enforcement in the future.
Lying has a profound impact on trust. It creates a barrier that prevents effective communication and cooperation. When an individual discovers they have been lied to, there is an immediate almost visceral feeling of betrayal and dishonesty, making it difficult to rebuild the trust that is lost. This is especially true in the case of law enforcement. If officers are found to be deceptive, it undermines their credibility and the public’s confidence in them. There is already little or no trust between certain communities and law enforcement. Lying to the very young enhances that feeling of mistrust and the overall effectiveness of law enforcement.
Honesty and transparency are paramount to maintaining ANY relationship between the police and the communities they serve.
Summary and Conclusion – Colorado Juvenile Law – Police Stopped From Lying To Kids In Criminal Investigations
It is not well known to the general public that the police in many states are permitted to outright lie about evidence when questioning a suspect … even children. This is no longer true in Colorado.
Statements coerced as a result of the use of unscrupulous methods such as making false promises of leniency, unreasonably long interrogations, the denial of physical necessities, or other unethical methods are not only inherently unreliable cast shame the entire criminal justice system. When statements are elicited from juvenile suspects who are particularly vulnerable to being manipulated by coercive interrogation techniques, that shame grows exponentially.
Coercive interrogation techniques can also have serious consequences for the juvenile not only in terms of legal repercussions but the psychological well-being of the child.
There are arguments in favor of permitting a certain level of deceit in police interrogations.
“What people often label as trickery is a solid tactic…that detectives use to add evidence already collected…. there’s nobody who wants to see the right person behind bars more than the dedicated detectives working the case.”
These arguments highlight the position that law enforcement investigations must have flexibility when dealing with different populations. Admittedly, striking a balance between the protection of the rights and well-being of juvenile suspects and the implementation of effective law enforcement procedures, is difficult.
What IS clear is that a child’s brain typically may not have developed to the point of fully understanding t the consequences of their actions. Furthermore, they are more particularly susceptible to coercion or manipulation and therefore the act of intentionally lying to juvenile suspects to exploit their vulnerability and impair their ability to make informed decisions is just … wrong.
Colorado’s new law is an acknowledgment that minors are vulnerable to being manipulated by coercive interrogation techniques. At the end of the day, some police interrogation methods such as deception remain clearly out of bounds and the new law – (immediately below) strikes an, admittedly, imperfect balance of interests.
Section 19-2.5-203 Statements (Section 8) …
(8) ( a ) A statement or admission by a juvenile made as a result of the juvenile’s custodial interrogation by a law enforcement official or agent is presumptively inadmissible against the juvenile at trial if the law enforcement official or agent knowingly communicated any untruthful information or belief to obtain the statement or admission, unless the prosecution establishes at an evidentiary hearing prior to trial, by a preponderance of the evidence and based on the totality of the circumstances, that the statement or admission was made voluntarily despite the untruthful information or belief used to obtain the statement or admission or that the law enforcement official in good faith reasonably believed the information or belief was true at the time it was used.
In assessing the totality of the circumstances, the court shall consider all evidence presented concerning the juvenile’s vulnerability to any untruthful information or belief used during the custodial interrogation.
( b ) A law enforcement official or agent shall electronically record all juvenile custodial interrogations pursuant to section 16-3-601 without regard to the nature of the offense that the law enforcement official or agent reasonably believes is being investigated.
( c ) Law enforcement agencies are encouraged to adopt and follow national model policies that are included in P.O.S.T. rules concerning law-enforcement-conducted interrogations involving a juvenile.
(d) As used in this subsection (8):
(I) “Agent” means a person who acts with the motive of assisting law enforcement efforts to obtain a confession, as shown by the totality of the circumstances.
(II) “Untruthful information or belief” means any untruthful information or belief knowingly used or communicated to a juvenile who is the subject of a custodial interrogation. “Untruthful information or belief” may include but is not limited to statements regarding evidence or unauthorized statements regarding potential leniency by a law enforcement official, prosecutor, judge, juror, or any other juvenile officer.
(Codified at Section 19-2.5-203 Statements)
Colorado Criminal Law – – Colorado Juvenile Law – Police Stopped From Lying To Kids In Criminal Investigations
The reader is alerted to the fact that Colorado criminal law, like criminal law in every state and at the Federal level, changes constantly. The article appearing above was accurate at the time it was drafted but it cannot account for changes occurring after it was uploaded.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: H. Michael Steinberg – Email The Author at: email@example.com
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H. Michael works hard to get his clients the best possible results in and out of the courtroom. He has written, and continues to write, extensively on Colorado criminal law and he hopes this article helps you in some small way.