Civil Liberties

These New Laws Stop Cops From Lying to Kids

Yes, even children should have access to an attorney.


Based on mounting evidence that minors are especially susceptible to false confessions, criminal justice reformers in several states are demanding tighter rules for juvenile interrogations. The latest such push is happening in New York, where reformers hope to pass legislation requiring that minors have access to legal counsel prior to police interviews.

Maryland and Washington state already enforce such a rule. And in 2021, Illinois and Oregon became the first two states to ban police from lying to minors during interrogations.

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

Similar bills have previously been introduced in New York, but none have passed, due partly to opposition from the New York City Police Department (NYPD). "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 never have met the individual," a police spokesperson told The City in December.

NYPD detectives obviously would prefer that juvenile suspects consult with their parents rather than lawyers. "Cops asking questions do not have your best interests at heart," says Ken White, a criminal defense attorney and law blogger. "And note that cops consistently demand union rules protecting them from being questioned without counsel when they are investigated."

Law enforcement opposition also scuttled a 2022 Colorado bill that would have banned police from lying to juvenile suspects while trying to extract confessions. "Tough on crime" lawmakers called it "anti–law enforcement" and "pro-criminal."

One person who testified in favor of the Colorado bill was Lorenzo Montoya, who was 14 when he confessed, after several hours of badgering by two Denver police detectives, to being at the scene of a murder. Montoya's mom was present for the first part of the interview but eventually left her son alone with the detectives.

Montoya was convicted of first-degree felony murder, even though there was no physical evidence linking him to the scene. He spent 13 years behind bars before prosecutors agreed to release him.

It would be ideal if everyone had access to an attorney and was free from coercive interrogation techniques. Guaranteeing those rights to children should be a no-brainer.