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Working to Prevent Juvenile Wrongful Convictions

At the age of 14, Lawrence Montoya was coerced into a confession that cost him more than 13 years of freedom. A cognitively impaired teenager residing in Denver, Montoya was subjected to hours of law enforcement techniques including “false evidence ploy, manipulation, minimization, threats, false promises.” Finally under immense pressure Montoya succumbed to these techniques and confessed falsely, resulting in a wrongful conviction. This tragic case is sadly just a single reminder of many of the urgency of protecting truth and trust in juvenile interrogations, and the importance of passing HB 23- 1042, Admissibility Standards For Juvenile Statements.

Currently in Colorado, law enforcement may use deception during interrogation of youth. The methods used during these interrogations can also be harmful. Juveniles may be subjected to physical and psychological pressure, such as being held in isolation, being threatened with harsher punishment, or being presented with fake evidence. These tactics can lead to false confessions and can also cause long-term psychological damage. Children are more susceptible to manipulation and more likely to provide inaccurate information and false confessions under such pressure. According to an analysis published by the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University “There can be no doubt about it: Young people are simply more likely to be wrongfully convicted than adults.” “They are less able to weigh risks and consequences; less likely to understand their legal rights; and less likely to understand what attorneys do or how attorneys can help them.”

Colorado now has an opportunity to follow states such as Oregon, Illinois and pass safeguards for kids with HB 23- 1042, Admissibility Standards For Juvenile Statements which will:

  • Increase funding for interrogation training for law enforcement, and

  • Improve the general reliability of confessions by requiring all juvenile interrogations to be recorded, and

  • If law enforcement does use deceptive tactics during custodial interrogation, the judge may discern whether the resulting confession was voluntary and therefore reliable and admissible in trial.

Under interrogation for two and a half hours Lawrence Montoya denied 65 times being involved in the murder that he was ultimately coerced into confessing to using deceptive tactics. This confession was used in the absence of a shred of physical evidence to convict a 14 year old child. Unjust convictions such as Lawrence Montoya’s undermines the integrity of the justice system and can be prevented by HB 23-1042. Unfortunately, we cannot give back the countless years that have been taken from wrongly convicted children such as Lawrence Montoya, but this important legislation can be a first step in building trust within the criminal justice system and preventing future unjust convictions.

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