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From the Sad but True Files: Police Oppose Laws Prohibiting Cops From Lying to Juveniles During Interrogations

by Douglas Ankney

Vehement opposition by law ­enforcement stopped the passage of a 2022 Colorado bill that would have banned police from lying to juvenile suspects while attempting to extract confessions. Lawmakers projecting a “tough on crime” image called the bill “anti-law enforcement” and “pro-criminal.” But mounting evidence proves that minors are highly susceptible to giving false confessions.

Wrongful convictions have revealed that teenagers are less likely to understand their Miranda rights than adults are and that teenagers tend to focus more on immediate rewards instead of long-term consequences. The Innocence Project reports that nearly 30 percent of DNA exonerations involved false confessions and roughly one-third of the defendants in those cases were 18 or younger when they falsely confessed.

Lorenzo Montoya testified in favor of the now thwarted Colorado bill. Montoya was 14 years old when he confessed to being at the scene of a murder after two Denver police detectives had badgered him for two hours. Although Montoya’s mother was present for the initial portion of the interrogation, she eventually left him alone with detectives. Montoya, without any physical evidence linking him to the scene, was convicted of first-degree felony murder and served 13 years in prison before prosecutors agreed to release him.

Unbelievably but not surprisingly, law enforcement in several states have also opposed bills that require minors to have access to legal counsel before police interviews. The New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) recently opposed such a bill. An NYPD spokesperson told the City in December 2022: “Parents and guardians are in the best position to make decisions for their children, and this bill, while well-intentioned, supplants the judgment of parents and guardians with an attorney who may have never met the individual.”

But criminal defense attorney and blogger Ken White counters: “Cops asking questions do not have your best interests at heart. And note that cops consistently demand union rules protecting them from being questioned without counsel when they are investigated.” Obviously, cops prefer juveniles consult with their parents instead of a lawyer who is actually capable of meaningfully protecting a juvenile suspect’s interests, unlike most parents – despite the best intentions of protecting their child, they simply aren’t capable of doing so in this situation.

Of course, police know the highly-effective interrogation tactics used by investigators to elicit inculpatory statements and confessions (both false and genuine) from the unwary and unsophisticated. That’s the reason even adults who are trained law enforcement professionals insist on not facing police interrogators without the protection of defense counsel, yet those same police officers also insist that juveniles face seasoned interrogators on their own. 

The states of Maryland and Washington require minors have access to legal counsel prior to police interviews. And in 2021, Illinois and Oregon became the first two states to ban police from lying to minors during interrogations. But generally speaking, in America, cops can lie to suspects with impunity, but if suspects lie to cops, they may be charged with obstruction of justice or other crimes. History has shown that people have the kind of government for which they are willing to fight. We must fight for something better than lying cops extracting false confessions.   




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