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Colorado lawmakers tackle the issue of police lying to juveniles

Law enforcement officers can legally lie to suspects to get them to confess to a crime. They may tell them they have evidence they don’t have or that someone else turned on them, for example. However, when it’s a couple of 50-something detectives lying to a 16-year-old, it doesn’t seem right to many people. That includes some lawmakers in Colorado.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers introduced a bill that would make any statements made to anyone under 18 during police interrogation inadmissible as evidence if an officer knowingly lied to them. The bill ended up being watered down to the point where supporters decided to let it die.

As one of the sponsors said, other lawmakers “changed it to a point where…we agree that it would actually be worse for our kids when we’re talking about the use of deceptive tactics from law enforcement.” They’ve resolved to try again in the next session.

The main concern isn’t that deceptive techniques can cause juveniles to admit to crimes they committed but that they can often be persuaded to “confess” to crimes they didn’t commit. One study found that over a third (38%) of juveniles who were eventually exonerated made “false confessions” – compared to just 11% of adults.

One example that Colorado lawmakers have cited involved a 14-year-old Colorado boy who confessed to murder after police falsely told him his saliva and other evidence implicating him were found at the scene. After serving more than 13 years of a life sentence, he was exonerated based on real DNA evidence.

Juveniles and temporal discounting

Psychologists say juveniles are more likely to make false confessions than adults in part because of “temporal discounting,” which makes young people seek short-term rewards without fully thinking about long-term consequences. They’re also typically less capable of dealing with high-stress situations. That can cause a young person to say whatever an officer wants if they’re told it means they can get some sleep or a meal or maybe even go home.

Although no one wants to consider the possibility that their child could end up in an interrogation room, it’s wise to talk to them about their rights and how to firmly but respectfully assert them. Don’t let your child deal with the justice system – even the juvenile justice system – without legal guidance.