Earlier this month, Gov. Jared Polis heeded the call of community and continued in his goal of making Colorado one of the 10 safest states by signing HB 23-1042. Officially, the bill is titled Admissibility Standards For Juvenile Statements; it’s more commonly known as Protecting Truth and Trust in Juvenile Interrogations.

This crucial legislation will discourage police officers from using deceptive practices when interrogating children. This legislation will help prevent the wrongful convictions of children. And, in the long term, it will make all of us safer by increasing trust between communities and law enforcement officers.

In 1989, 16-year-old Korey Wise falsely confessed after being interrogated for hours while police lied to him. Korey is one of the members of the Exonerated Five, a group of Black and Latino children who were wrongfully convicted of a brutal attack and sexual assault of a white female jogger in Central Park. The false confessions formed the basis of the case against Korey and his peers. Korey was charged and tried as an adult and served 11.5 years in adult prison until the real perpetrator of the crime was identified by DNA and confessed to the crime.

After reaching a settlement with the city of New York in a civil suit, Korey made a generous contribution to the Colorado Innocence Project at the University of Colorado Law School and the project was renamed in his honor. Korey remains closely connected to the school and was back on campus this past fall speaking to law students. We are honored to be the Korey Wise Innocence Project. And we feel a duty to speak out on behalf of Korey, the other members of the Exonerated Five, and so many other children who have been wrongfully convicted due to police deception during interrogations.

Children are three times more likely to falsely confess to crimes than adults. Children are particularly vulnerable and they should be protected. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, in the last twenty-five years, 38% of children who have been exonerated gave false confessions.

Here in Colorado, Lorenzo Montoya is one of those children. At age 14, Lorenzo falsely confessed to a murder he did not commit. He denied any involvement in the crime more than 60 times before relenting under police pressure during an interrogation. That police pressure included deception: the police told Lorenzo that they already knew what happened and had fingerprints, shoe prints, and “hair prints” that would convict him. None of these things were true. Lorenzo ultimately served 13 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

This year, Lorenzo bravely testified at the Capitol in favor of the Protecting Truth and Trust in Juvenile Interrogations bill. Under this new law, admissions obtained during juvenile custodial interrogations will be presumptively inadmissible during a trial if a law enforcement officer knowingly used deception during the interrogation. The bill also increases funding for interrogation training for law enforcement and will improve the general reliability of confessions by requiring all juvenile interrogations to be recorded.

By passing this law, the Colorado General Assembly and Gov. Polis resoundingly said that we can make sure that what happened to Korey, what happened to Lorenzo, and what happened to so many other vulnerable youth does not happen again. By ensuring that confessions are voluntary and reliable, our communities will be safer.

At Korey Wise Innocence Project, we litigate cases to exonerate innocent people. But we know that litigation is not enough to stop wrongful convictions. We have begun embarking on policy and educational outreach efforts because we believe that this multi-pronged approach is the best way to prevent wrongful convictions. We have developed a high school curriculum and started teaching a class on wrongful convictions. The curriculum focuses in large part on false confessions by children because that curriculum is relatable to high school students.

We taught a class at George Washington High School and several students then testified at hearings at the Capitol because they were moved by what they learned. The students explained that they want to trust the police and they were stunned to learn that policy and practice allowed police to lie to them. They could not fathom a world in which this legislation would not pass, a world that condones authority figures lying to children.

The students eloquently spoke about the need for safety in their schools and emphasized that this bill would help rebuild trust between children and law enforcement. The Colorado House of Representatives,the Colorado Senate and Gov. Polis heeded the words of Lorenzo Montoya and the George Washington High School students when they passed this bill.

The Korey Wise Innocence Project is proud to support the legislation and applauds Gov. Polis for protecting Colorado’s children by signing this vital piece of legislation into law.

Jeanne Segil, of Denver, is the policy and educational outreach director of the Korey Wise Innocence Project at the University of Colorado School of Law.

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Jeanne Segil, of Denver, is the policy and educational outreach director of the Korey Wise Innocence Project at the University of Colorado School of Law.