Lorenzo Montoya

Lorenzo Montoya, 14, during a taped interrogation by the Denver Police Department in 2000. During the interrogation, Montoya falsely confessed to a murder and was later sentenced to life in prison. He was exonerated on DNA evidence after serving more than 13 years. 

Lorenzo Montoya spent more than 13 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. 

In 2000, when Montoya was 14 years old, he confessed to committing a murder after Denver police told him there were fingerprints, shoe prints and saliva at the crime scene proving his guilt. Montoya said the police told him he would go to prison for the rest of his life if he did not admit he was guilty.

After his confession, Montoya was convicted of felony murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. He was exonerated on DNA evidence in 2014. 

“It is an experience I will never get over. It still haunts me,” Montoya said while testifying in the state legislature. "In the interrogation room, I felt like I was on a sinking ship in the middle of the ocean with nowhere to go but down." 

Colorado Democrats are trying to prevent these kinds of situations with House Bill 1042

If passed into law, the bill would make any statements obtained by juveniles during custodial interrogations inadmissible in court if law enforcement knowingly presented untruthful information to the juvenile during the interrogation — unless the prosecution can prove the statement was made voluntarily regardless of the untruthful information. 

Bill sponsor Rep. Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver, said deceptive tactics by law enforcement — like saying they have proof a suspect is guilty — can lead to juveniles confessing to crimes they didn’t commit out of fear or confusion.

Of juveniles exonerated for crimes over a 25-year period, 38% had given false confessions, according to a 2013 study by the National Registry of Exonerations. In contrast, only 11% of exonerated adults provided false confessions.

“Children and teens are especially vulnerable to tactics that deliberately include statements that interrogators know are untrue,” Bacon said. “Our children don’t have the tools to navigate the justice system and because of their developmental phase, they struggle to fully process their surroundings. As a result, we see children ending up behind bars instead of in the classroom.”

The state House of Representatives approved the bill on Saturday, voting 42-21 to send it to the Senate for further consideration. 

Republicans stood in firm opposition to the bill, all voting against it. Three Democrats also voted "no" on the bill: Reps. Shannon Bird of Westminster, Meghan Lukens of Steamboat Springs and Barbara McLachlan of Durango. 

Opponents argued that deception is an important tool law enforcement needs to solve increasingly frequent crimes. In 2021, there were 67 homicides committed by juveniles in Colorado — the highest yearly total in at least two decades, according to state juvenile delinquency court filings. 

Rep. Gabe Evans, R-Fort Lupton, pointed to heinous crimes committed by minors as examples of when police being able to lie during interrogations is in the public's best interest. He specifically spoke of the kidnapping and murder of 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway by a 17-year-old in Westminster in 2012.

"Somebody who does that to another person, that's a tough nut to crack. They're not just going to come out at the second question law enforcement asks and say, 'Yes, I did it,'" Evans said. "We have to have those tools to be able to gain the truth." 

Opponents also pointed out that false convictions are apparently rare in Colorado. Since 1989, there have been only 11 exonerations in Colorado, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Of those 11 exonerations, only two included false confessions and only one — Montoya — involved a minor. 

Proponents pushed back against this argument, saying even one minor in prison for a false confession is too many. They also explained that police leading minors to provide false statements does not always result in the minor's arrest, but in the arrest of innocent adults. 

During a public hearing on the bill, Amber Doggett, a Colorado social worker, said she was interrogated by police when she was 11 years old in Washington. Doggett said the detective claimed she was abused by her parents and that her older siblings had told the police about the abuse. Though Doggett repeatedly denied being abused, police questioned her for hours, telling her she didn't remember the abuse because her parents had brainwashed her. 

Doggett said she eventually gave up, agreeing that she had been abused with the promise that she'd be allowed to go home. Doggett was then put into foster care and her parents were arrested. She was separated from her family for nearly five years, and didn't learn until they were reunited that her siblings had never told the police that Doggett was being abused. 

"I became so depressed I was pulled out of school, I could barely eat, I started having nightmares, I started to self harm. ... I didn't know what to believe," Doggett said. "Even after learning the truth, I continued down a self destructive path for many years." 

Under the bill, law enforcement would also be required to record all juvenile interrogations and to develop and implement a training program for officers interrogating juveniles, allocating $30,000 to fund the training.

A nearly identical bill was introduced last year but failed to pass. The bill was narrowly approved by the Senate in an 18-16 vote, then heavily amended and weakened in the House. The Senate rejected the changes and the House eventually voted to kill the bill on the last day of session. 

Republican lawmakers tried and failed to water down HB 1042 last week, proposing unsuccessful amendments that would have exempted juveniles charged as adults from the bill and made the legislation only apply to statements made specifically regarding the accusations being investigated. 

The bill is now headed to the Senate for a vote in the coming weeks. 

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