Prosecutors would have limited ability to use information that police gained by lying to kids if the Colorado legislature advances a renewed push to regulate juvenile interrogations, an effort leaders cast as a positive attempt to build trust with law enforcement and a fairer criminal justice system.
Unlike a similar bill introduced a year ago, this latest legislation — HB23-1042 — wouldn’t prohibit law enforcement from using deception when interrogating kids. Instead, the bill would make any statement given by a juvenile to an officer who used deception inadmissible in court by default. Prosecutors could later ask a judge to allow those statements be used as evidence, but they’d have to prove “by the preponderance of evidence” that the statement was voluntary, despite the deception.
In other words: The bill doesn’t stop a police interrogator from knowingly deceiving a juvenile, which is what lawmakers in Illinois did in 2021. But it would make it harder for any statement gained through that lie to make it into a Colorado court.
The measure would also require juvenile interrogations be recorded. The agency that trains and certifies law enforcement in Colorado would also be required to develop a program to ensure compliance with the law, should it pass.
“We need to modernize our tactics,” said Rep. Jennifer Bacon, who’s sponsoring the bill with fellow Denver Democrat Sen. Julie Gonzales. “These are impressionable kids.”
That’s part of what makes this year’s push different from last year: a narrative shift. Focus less on police lying and more on setting tactics, building trust and protecting kids.
“This is not about (law enforcement) being liars,” Bacon said.
Last year’s attempt to regulate how police interrogate kids died as the 2022 session hit a frenetic stretch in May, Bacon and Gonzales said, in part because of a late amendment and opposition from law enforcement groups. Supporters learned lessons from that fight: There was more opposition than they’d anticipated.
“We even got the narrative wrong,” said Kym Ray, a community organizer with Together Colorado, which is supporting the bill. “What we were thinking would happen, what we saw in Illinois — that we were abolishing something, we were going to stop the police from being able to lie to children. But in actuality, we’re not completely pulling the carpet out but more so what’s admissible in court, what information gets provided in the courtroom.”
The discussion over the bill had developed into a more pointed debate about law enforcement lying to the people they’re charged with protecting, supporters said. That made it more combative, particularly in an election year and amid a pre-existing narrative about the relationship between police and criminal justice reform.
This year, supporters and lawmakers want to reframe the issue in a more positive and collaborative direction. That includes “doing our part to reduce vitriol,” Bacon said. Groups like Together Colorado and Stand for Children will be more involved this time around, too.
“I happen to be a Black mother of a son and a daughter,” Ray said, “and ultimately what I really, really want is that if my child has ever or ever comes into contact with law enforcement — and as a parent going in — I would want my kid to be represented in a truthful, honest way.”
The hope is that the reframing and immediate inclusion of a training provision will address law enforcement concerns from last year, when a coalition of policing groups — which included the state associations representing police chiefs, county sheriffs and the Fraternal Order of Police — opposed the measure.
Whether those efforts will ease the bill’s path through the Capitol remains to be seen: In a statement, a spokesman for the coalition said it had not yet taken a formal position on the bill and reiterated that it opposed it last year because the groups thought it was both unnecessary and would limit law enforcement.
But the coalition also said that it appreciated some of the changes to the bill’s language as “an appropriate compromise.”
“Law enforcement must always work to protect juveniles and ensure the fairest treatment in the criminal justice system,” the group said. “There are many laws and regulations that dictate how juveniles are interviewed, as well as checks and balances through district attorneys and judges.”
Despite those checks and balances, there is distrust between law enforcement and the Black community in particular, Ray said. The bill is part of an effort to address that.
“Something’s got to give,” she said. “We can’t continue this environment of distrust because ultimately, that does not keep our communities safe.”
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