Young People are Especially Vulnerable to Falsely Confessing Under the Pressure of Deception

HB 23- 1042, Admissibility Standards For Juvenile Statements was heard by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, January 31. Below is the prepared testimony of Lindsay Saunders-Velez, Senior Executive Director of the Colorado Justice Advocacy Network. Learn more about HB23-1042 and why we are supporting it.

Chair and Members of the committee, My Name is Lindsay Saunders-Velez, Senior Executive Director of the Colorado Justice Advocacy Network, Commissioner of the Colorado Jail Standards Commission. I speak in Support of HB23-1042.

When people are brought in for questioning by police, they are expected to tell the truth. Most people would assume that goes both ways — that the police must also be truthful during interrogations, but the reality is that the police can lie to you during an interrogation, and it is common for them to do so. But why would the police lie? During interrogation, officers may lie about evidence they have to pressure you into confessing to a crime they believe you have committed — even if you are innocent.

That is what happened in the infamous case of the Exonerated Five (previously known as the Central Park Five). During individual interrogations, police told each of the five teens that the others had implicated them in committing the crime. In Connecticut, police falsely told 16-year-old Bobby Johnson that they had evidence he had committed the murder and that he would face the death penalty, but if he admitted guilt, they could make sure he would only get probation. As a result, he falsely confessed. Both cases involved police officers lying to teenagers. Young people are especially vulnerable to falsely confessing under the pressure of police deception tactics. Today, there is a growing movement for change in several states across the US and we have the power to protect young people from police deception by passing this legislation that reduces the risk of false or unreliable confessions.

Young people are especially vulnerable to falsely confessing under the pressure of deception because the parts of the brain that are responsible for future planning, judgment, and decision-making are not fully developed until a person reaches their mid-twenties.

Through such tactics, the police will try to convince a young person that denials are pointless, and confessing is the only option. Because youth are more vulnerable to social influence, police may also present themselves as “friendly” officers who want to help and will claim to show some leniency if they confess. This approach puts even more pressure on young people to falsely confess to a crime they did not commit.

Police deception is currently allowed in every state, but that could be starting to change. Illinois, Oregon, and Utah have passed legislation to protect juveniles from the use of police deception during interrogations, but the use of these tactics against adults is still legal in all 50 states. Several other states are taking steps to end police deception in interrogations altogether.

Confessions only must be voluntary to be used as evidence. The reliability of the confession, including whether it was obtained through coercion and deception, is not considered. In this bill, judges will be able to look into how reliable the confession evidence was. The Colorado Justice Advocacy Network supports Stand for Children on this bill. You can help end police deception in interrogations by passing this bill. Thank you for your time.

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