Legal Analysis

Fair Trials supports Colorado bill on juvenile interrogation but urges for further reforms

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On Tuesday, January 31, Fair Trials submitted a comment in support of Colorado’s SB 23-1042,  Admissibility Standards for Juvenile Statements, and to offer suggestions as to further best practices in the custodial interrogation of youths by law enforcement.

The bill, which moved out of the Judiciary Committee and into the Appropriations Committee, would not make deceptive practices illegal, but would make statements made by youths—in response to untruths told by police—presumptively inadmissible if procured during custodial interrogation. It would also require an electronic recording of the custodial interrogation.

Alisha Alcantar Tomovic, Legal & Policy Officer at Fair Trials, stated that while this bill does much to improve protections for our youth during an incredibly vulnerable time—it does not go far enough. Any time the police interview a suspect in-custody, it is inherently coercive and juveniles are particularly vulnerable to traditional police interrogation tactics. Because of this cognitive and developmental reality, juveniles are more likely than adults to give false confessions to police under questioning. Far from being a tool of best practices, deception under pressure of interrogation all too often results in a travesty of justice—a confession may be procured, but the innocent are found guilty. And, particularly for juveniles, the resulting penalties may be immense.

Fair Trials calls on Colorado to go further and consider reforms already enacted or introduced in other states and implemented internationally to protect youths from deceptive interrogation tactics. Research shows that the use of non-coercive tactics during law enforcement interviews not only improves outcomes and increases effectiveness but is a necessary shift in the tools used by law enforcement to bring our practices here in America in line with international human rights standards.

We will be following this legislation closely, and urge Colorado to abandon ineffective tools of coercion and adopt best practices supported by science and international ethical standards.