Police Abuse

Colorado Legislators Advance Bill To Ban Police from Lying to Minors During Interrogations

Reason reported last year on how minors are particularly susceptible to being coerced into false confessions.


Democratic lawmakers in Colorado are advancing a bill that would ban police from lying to minors during interrogations, a practice that innocence groups say contributes to false confessions.

The Denver Post reports that the Democrat-controlled Colorado Senate passed S.B. 22-23 by a party-line vote last week, sending it to the state House. The bill would prohibit police officers from using deception during interrogations of juveniles. It would also require law enforcement to electronically record all juvenile interrogations, and it would make any statements obtained by deception during an interrogation inadmissible in court against the juvenile, unless the prosecution can prove the statement was voluntary.

Reason reported last year on how states are finally starting to limit deception against minors during police interviews after years of mounting evidence that youths are particularly susceptible to being coerced into false confessions. In 2021, Illinois became the first state in the U.S. to ban police from lying to minors during interrogations. Oregon followed suit shortly after, and Washington passed a law requiring attorney consultations for minors before interrogations.

However, Colorado Republicans and state law enforcement oppose the legislation, insisting deception is a necessary tactic to solve crimes, and that the proposed reforms are "pro-criminal" (presumption of innocence be damned). The Denver Post reports that opposition to the bill rests "largely on the ideas that it's not needed, as parents already have the right to accompany kids in interrogation rooms, and both parents and kids in those situations must be read Miranda rights. Opponents note that judges already have discretion to toss statements or confessions obtained through trickery, if they're so inclined. They point to the lack of available data to bolster the Democrats' case. And they argue that deception is sometimes an important and useful tool that should not be outright banned."

These facile arguments pretend that safeguards that we already know have failed to stop false confessions will be enough to stop future instances. According to the Innocence Project, nearly 30 percent of DNA exonerations involved false confessions. Roughly a third of those false confessors were 18 years old or younger at the time of their arrest.

Take, for instance, the case of Lawrence Montoya, who Reason profiled in its story on coerced confessions last year. In 2000, Denver police brought Montoya, then 14 years old, and his mother into the station to question Montoya about the murder of a local woman.

Montoya admitted that he'd unwittingly taken a joyride with his cousin in the woman's stolen car the day after her death, but he denied ever being at the scene of the killing. Montoya's mother encouraged him to talk to the police and tell them everything he knew, and she eventually left the room, allowing detectives to lean on Montoya harder.

The detectives claimed they found his shoeprint in the woman's blood, among other evidence. "If you were there, you better give it up," a detective told Montoya. "We've got fingerprints, we've got blood prints, we've got saliva prints," one said. "We've got everything."

"You don't have a fuckin' clue what we can prove," the other detective added. "Your ass is hanging out big time."

Montoya, sobbing at times, denied being at the murder scene 65 times, but after several hours of badgering and threats of damning physical evidence against him, the teenager admitted to being at the woman's house the night of the murder. He spun a story about the night using the facts detectives had been feeding him, and the detectives helpfully corrected him when he got major details wrong.

Despite no physical evidence linking him to the crime (the officers' claims were nothing but bluster), a jury convicted Montoya of first-degree felony murder. He spent 13 years behind bars before prosecutors cut a deal to release him on time served in exchange for his pleading guilty to being an accessory after the fact. Montoya filed a still-ongoing federal lawsuit against the city of Denver and several Denver police officers in 2016.

The Denver Post recounts the story of another child who was pressured by police to falsely accuse her parents of sexual assault. When the police in Wenatchee, Washington, brought 11-year-old Amber Doggett in for questioning in 1993, they were already convinced that a sexual assault ring existed in their town—a fantasy that occupied the vivid imaginations of many police departments in the 1980s and 1990s and led to many wrongful convictions. So when Doggett denied ever being abused, the police insisted she'd been brainwashed and told her that her three siblings had already confirmed the abuse to them, which was a lie. Eventually Doggett broke down and told the police what they wanted to hear.

"What the (expletive) was I supposed to do? I was 11 years old," Doggett told The Denver Post (bowdlerization in the original story). "It was nighttime, I couldn't just walk out of the police station alone. I was in a situation where everything was just so terrifying. My brain switched to survival mode."

Doggett was then forced to undergo a sexual assault examination, and the police told her that it showed proof of abuse, which was, again, a lie. The Denver Post continues the story:

The consequences of the sham stretched for many years. Doggett was placed in foster care and her parents were arrested, convicted and sent to prison. She grew depressed and fell behind in school. She lost her appetite and started to self-harm, and was eventually institutionalized and heavily medicated. She had a hard time trusting adults.

Her parents were ultimately cleared of all charges and the fictitious Wenatchee sex abuse ring was long ago debunked.

This is apparently the sort of ace detective work that Colorado Republicans and law enforcement think should be preserved.

NEXT: The Convictions of 3 Cops Who Failed To Prevent George Floyd's Death Underline the Duty To Intervene

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  1. Here's a really way out idea; don't let the cops lie to anyone.
    Eliminate offering plea "bargains", and there would be a big improvement in justice. Let the DA file charges he can prove, and go from there.

    1. Baby (ahem!) steps.

      1. What about Bob?

    2. There are grey areas with lying.

      For instance. How are you? "I'm fine." Often a lie. I'm not always fine, but I'm not going to tell you my troubles. Literally everyone lies, often. So just saying "Police cannot lie" is damned near impossible.

      Also, what about an undercover situation? Or one where a police officer off duty, in his civilian clothes (but armed, lots of cops including the retired ones I know have a gun all the time) finds himself in a tight spot and doesn't want to call attention to his being a cop?

      We can go on forever, but my point is that it is a nuanced issue. However, telling a 15 year old he's going to jail for life or he can agree to a lesser charge so he'll confess to something is definitely something I don't support. Likewise, I have a real problem with the no trial, plea deal politics where they add every charge they can to make trial a costly and dangerous affair and force a plea. I completely agree with you there.

      1. Don't be so daft. This is related to interviews / interrogations, including an initial Terry stop. Nothing to do with off-duty.

        1. Maybe Longtobefree didn't mean to include off-duty situations but "don't let the cops lie to anyone" is a pretty absolute statement. If Long wants to provide the nuance, maybe you should let him/her do it.

          In the meantime, the difference between an undercover investigation and an interview is not at all obvious. Why should cops get to lie to you when they're in your drug den but suddenly be held to a different standard when you're in the police station? Personally, I like the idea of a 'cops can't lie' rule but Stuck is right that such a simple rule has negative consequences.

      2. There are grey areas with lying.

        Yup. And there's no reason to predicate eliminating plea bargaining on lying and it largely circumvents the issue.

        For instance. How are you? "I'm fine." Often a lie. I'm not always fine, but I'm not going to tell you my troubles. Literally everyone lies, often. So just saying "Police cannot lie" is damned near impossible.

        The key you're missing in your post is reciprocity. Informants lie. Ban police from using informants? Ban informants from lying? Witnesses make mistakes all the time, ban eye-witness testimony?

        Perjury's already a crime. As long as humans can lie, police are going to lie and you aren't going to get rid of it without effectively banning everyone from lying. The whole point of the other half of the justice system is to elucidate lies, both omission and commission, from misunderstanding from, general retardation. And that part of the system is already largely forbidden from criminally convicting people for lying, except in the case of perjury.

      3. There are grey areas with lying.

        Cop: Those people didn't die of natural causes (true statement), so somebody had to kill those people (true statement) and video surveillance says you were the only other person in the building at the time (true statement).
        Suspect: You're right (true statement). It was me (untrue statement). I killed those people (untrue statement).
        Cop: So, you admit it (true statement)! You're saying you killed those people (true statement)! That you're the one that killed them (uh...)!

        1. video surveillance says you were the only other person in the building at the time (true statement)

          Ahp, caught myself. The video shows they were the only other person in the building, not says that. So, untrue statement.

          Never talk to the cops, kids.

  2. Deception in interrogations is wrong for many reasons, but the best reason is that it particularly hurts the innocent. If a cop says that they have evidence or a witness is implicating you, and you are innocent, then you know the evidence is fake, the witness is lying, or the cop is lying. The innocent suspect (and their lawyer if they have one) must thread the needle of faith that the person who is lying now (and trying to frame an innocent person) will suddenly tell the truth later on in the legal process. That is a hell of a risk to take and my heart breaks for anyone in that situation.

    1. Teach children to Trust The Kleptocracy, and that Violence is Tough Love.

  3. I agree with this bill, but it's not enough. Police need to be forbidden from lying during any interrogation. Coercing people into false confessions has been a problem and needs to be fixed.

  4. I have mixed feelings about this. Shouldn't libertarians support free speech rights?

    And turnabout is fair play - should we also make it illegal for minors to lie to police?

    And why just minors? Why not forbid police lying to any suspect?

    And another issue is that bills like this could clog the courts with criminals complaining the police lied to them during questioning. Even in the most good faith interrogation, it's too easy for a cop to inadvertently tell an untruth about something, somehow.

    1. It already is illegal for minors (and anyone else) to lie to police. Yes, turnabout is fair play. If it's illegal for us to lie to them, it should be illegal for them to lie to us. Or not illegal for both. No double-standards.

      1. Show me such a law. It's illegal to lie under oath, and there's a separate statute about lying to federal agents, but that doesn't apply to local police. Kids can lie to them all they want.

        1. Kids can lie to them all they want.

          After homecoming, my middle broodling was hanging out with friends in town. Apparently, someone (AFAICT in a separate group), climbed up on top of a local grade school, vandalized it, and damaged property. Police were generally around the neighborhood for 'serve and protect' reasons and pulled up to my son's group to ask "Did you guys see anybody on the roof of the school?" to which my son replied, "What's a school?"

          Son, while a statement like that *may* earn you some bail money from me for petty vandalism, don't talk to cops.

    2. It's already illegal to lie to the police during an investigation. Here in Colorado it seems to fit the definition for obstruction of justice. That's why you never talk to the police; even an unintentional lie, like misremembering something, can get you put in jail.

      Personally I think everyone involved should be allowed to lie, but if we're outlawing it it has to be outlawed for everyone. Defendants having to behave like saints while the cops get to use every dirty trick in the book is not justice.

    3. this could clog the courts with criminals complaining the police lied to them during questioning

      So the fuck what? Cops actually having to do their jobs? What a miscarriage of justice!

    4. Never talk to the police.

      Better men and women than us died so that government would have to recognize our right to NOT talk to police.

      Don't talk to the police. Not ever for any reason ever... Never...

      1. Damned if you do, they will twist everything you say. Damned if you don't because now you have something to hide. I do agree though, better off saying nothing.

    5. Translation: by "criminals," Johnnie Gooniun here means "blacks, latinos or one imagined to be near Satanic plant leaves."

    6. should we also make it illegal for minors to lie to police?

      Make false confessions illegal. Problem solved (true statement).

  5. Not to be all post-modern, but there is a significant power differential between the police and other actors for the State and private individuals. We need to shift the balance of power with respect to freedoms and rights from the aggregate back to the individual.

    My preferred policies?

    Unless under oath administered by Judicial Branch (i.e., a court proceeding, people have no duty to tell the State anything. And if they do, they have no duty to tell the truth. Yes, lying on taxes would be legal. Lying to administrative law judges should probably be legal as well, because aren't they part of the executive branch?

    At no time is anyone in the Executive or Judicial branches permitted to lie to an individual. Incorrect statements are presumed to be lies and the individual be awarded damages.

    Corporations have powers, and shield liability that individuals often don't. Those tax breaks and shifting of risk to others should have a cost. For the purposes of these principles, corporations are not people. The government can lie to them and make mistakes.

    1. So just to test the limits of your conviction:
      - You've outlawed all undercover investigations.
      - You've outlawed making a pretextual call (that is, pretending to be someone else) that rescues a kidnap victim.
      - You've turned bureaucratic incompetence into a criminal violation. Think IRS Help line. (I'm with you on this one, by the way. I just want to make sure you are.)
      - You've turned bad legal advice by a public defender from grounds for appeal to a criminal violation - which might have some adverse impact on the willingness of folks to volunteer for that job.

      On the other hand, I disagree strongly with your opinion about corporations. Corporations are nothing more than collections of people. Government can't lie to a corporation without lying to the employee who's taking the call.

      By the way you're wrong in some of your assumptions. Corporations do get to shield their owners from (some) liability but those owners pay for that protection by being taxed twice. Incorporation is not a "tax break" - it is at best tax neutral and usually a tax increase.

      1. Corporations are nothing more than collections of people.

        True. Also, people are just clumps of cells.

    2. End police entirely.

      American "style" law enforcement is an elected sheriff who's deputies are volunteers directly from the neighborhood.

      Police is a progressive, socialist construct.

      Sheriffs swear an oath to uphold the Bill of Rights. Police swear an oath to follow the orders of whoever is currently in charge of the government.

      Police were spread all over the US and the FBI was created because sheriffs wouldn't uphold Prohibition... What more do we need to know.

      End Police.

  6. When is the bill that forbids the cops from mental abuse and torture?

  7. The police should not be allowed to lie to any suspect, all interrogations should be recorded and if the police lie the case should automatically be dismissed. The liar or liars should also be punished.

    1. See above. The police are quite capable of badgering false confessions out of people with nothing but true statements. Do we then convict the suspect of lying?

  8. If I lie to the police it is a felony and I go to jail Fair enough. But if THEY lie t o ME and I cannot disprove their statement than I can STILL go to jail,.. not them.
    The bilbical punishment for those who "bear false witness"agasint another must suffer the same punishment the person lied to suffers, or would have suffered had the lie been believed. If a cop is questioning a suspect and LIES, that is bearing false witness to the accused. 'And the one fibbing, cop or not, NEEDS to bear the punishment above. End of story. WHY is there even a law necessary to establish this?

    How many goernment operatives, now in disfavour wiht the present regime, have gone to priison for makng statement about some minor or inanane thing, get imprisoned for "perjury" when someone has found the same person had spoken the opposite fifteen years ago? Too many. but THEY can lie when they are "playing" us in interorogation? Nonsense.

    1. The whole world is nonsense, mostly due to hypocrisy.

  9. I just don't get how this is so hard for people to learn.

    Don't talk to police.

    Not only did the parents talk to the police, they encouraged their children to do so and eventually left the child alone to be interrogated by the police.

    How can people be so stupid?





  10. Make all the laws you want. If you think that will stop the cops from lying, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you.

  11. A common theme I see in the comments is that police should not be able to lie to anyone (minors or adults) during questioning or an interrogation. I agree with that sentiment. Police should have a natural advantage already. They know the fact of the cases and that should give them enough of an advantage.

    1. Kleptocracy politicians gleefully tell police in written laws that they can rob at gunpoint for no reason whatsoever, and actually murder people in cold blood because they imagine they smelled plant leaves, Cops then hide behind qualified immunity, juries picked by cop unions and friendly prohibitionist DAs. Now, suddenly, fibbing to vulnerable victims is The Real Problem?

  12. Americans think you need evidence to be convicted but as the story proves it is not necessary..."Despite no physical evidence linking him to the crime...a jury convicted Montoya of first-degree felony murder."

  13. When we need a law to force people with extraordinary powers to use their powers responsibly in one particular case, we have a big problem. What about all cases, too many to name?
    Two solutions present themselves. 1. Take away their powers. 2. Punish the irresponsible.
    The rebuttal: We need our powers and we will "police" ourselves.
    The re-rebuttal: You haven't proven you are special, deserving of special privileges, but you have proven you won't act responsibly. Therefore, why would we give you power you routinely abuse? The abuse proves a lack of personal control and immorality. Your justifications are further proof. You make it impossible to support your authority over us.

    1. Two solutions present themselves. 1. Take away their powers. 2. Punish the irresponsible.

      Two *broad categories* of solutions. They encompass a lot of solutions and not all the solutions neatly fall into either category.

      For instance, "No testimony, true or false, can be elicited by officers from minors (not legally capable of making their own decisions) directly. Officers caught eliciting testimony directly from minors shall be guilty of interfering with an investigation and/or falsifying information."

  14. Mexican Joker caught. Case closed. Thank Jesus and Nixon for qualified immunity.

  15. Q: Is it wrong for cops to lie in an interrogation while not under oath? A: Depends on what your definition of the word 'is' is.

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