Bills advance to prevent police lying to minors, expand DNA testing … –


The House Judiciary Committee advanced a series of bills Tuesday that seek to prevent police from lying to minors, expand post-conviction DNA testing and limit the use of restraints in prisons. 

If passed by the full state legislature, House Bill 1042 would make any statements obtained by juveniles during 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. 

“It’s a matter of public safety. We don’t want real perpetrators to be walking free,” said bill sponsor Rep. Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver. “Young people process things differently. … The way that they can understand presence, authority, the impact to their own liberty, is not the same as an adult.”

“It’s just not,” she added. 

Bacon 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.

Law enforcement officials and organizations stood firmly against the bill, testifying during the committee meeting that deception is an important tool they need to solve crimes.

“Juvenile offenders are capable of committing horrific crimes,” said Douglas County Sheriff Darren Weekly. “(Deception) is a recognized tactic used throughout the country at all levels of law enforcement to obtain important information in criminal cases. … I ask you not to create another barrier to bringing justice for victims of crime.” 

Supporters of the bill pushed back, saying it would prevent false confessions that result in innocent victims being imprisoned while real criminals remain free.

Such was the case in 2000 for then 14-year-old Lorenzo Montoya, who confessed to a murder he did not commit after Denver police told him there were fingerprints, shoe prints and saliva at the crime scene proving his guilt. Montoya was convicted of felony murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. He served more than 13 years before he was exonerated on DNA evidence.

“It is an experience I will never get over. It still haunts me,” Montoya said Tuesday. “I was told that I would be going to prison for life if I didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear. … I was tricked by all of their lies. I hope you can stop that from happening to others.”

The bill would also require law enforcement to record all juvenile interrogations and to develop and implement a training program for officers interrogating juveniles. A nearly identical bill was introduced last session, but failed to pass. 

The committee advanced the bill in a 9-4 vote, sending it to the House Appropriations Committee for further consideration. The vote was split along party lines with Democrats in support and Republicans in opposition. 

The second bill, House Bill 1034, would expand eligibility for people convicted of felonies to receive DNA testing. Current law only allows people who are actively incarcerated to receive the DNA testing, but the bill would open it up to people on felony parole, registered sex offenders, people who have completed their sentences, and people who were found not guilty by reason of insanity.

The bill would also permit courts to order DNA testing if there is a reasonable probability that the person would not have been convicted if DNA testing produced a favorable result at trial.

“Wrongful convictions are a problem in Colorado just as they are across the entire country,” said Rep. Lindsey Daugherty, D-Arvada, who sponsored HB 1034. “By improving our statue, we can enable petitioners to access testing to prove their innocence and identify the actual perpetrators of the offenses.”

Daugherty called Colorado’s current post-conviction DNA testing law outdated, pointing out that it hasn’t been updated since it was established in 2003. In those 20 years, only three people in Colorado have been exonerated for DNA-related reasons, she said.

One of those three people is Robert “Rider” Dewey, who spent nearly 18 years in prison after being convicted of a rape and murder that DNA evidence later cleared him of committing.

While testifying in support of HB 1034 Tuesday, Dewey said he repeatedly requested DNA testing while in prison but was denied for years until connecting with the Innocence Project in 2007. Even then, the testing wasn’t completed until 2010 and the conviction wasn’t overturned until 2012.

“They knew they messed up, so they just kept denying me,” Dewey said. “While I was in there, my son died. My only child. … I’ve got titanium from my first vertebrate to my pelvis now because of all the stomping I got. … I can’t stress DNA testing enough. They could have saved me a lot of headaches.”

The committee unanimously approved HB 1034, sending it to the House floor for the whole chamber to vote in the coming weeks.

Finally, House Bill 1013 would restrict the use of four-point restraints in Colorado prisons, where prisoners are strapped to a bed by their arms and legs with metal restraints.

These kinds of restraints are used to prevent people from harming themselves or others when they present a threat; however, proponents for HB 1013 say they are being dangerously overused.

Disability Law Colorado found one instance in the Colorado Department of Corrections where a person was kept in these restraints for 39 days straight, only getting up to use the bathroom and eat. Others were found to have spent 90 days out of nine months and 60 days out of 10 months in the restraints.

“I hope that you could all try to imagine what it would be like to spend 39 days strapped to a bed on your back, all alone in a tiny, little room and what the damage might be to your mental health,” said Rep. Judy Amabile, D-Boulder, who sponsored HB 1013. “It is a way to stop somebody from self-harming, but not for 39 days, not for 6 days, not for 3 days. That’s too much.”

Tyler Himelstieb said he was put in four-point restraints after he was brought to the San Carlos Correctional Facility in Pueblo in July. Himelstieb said he hit his head on his cell door after being declined his bipolar medication, resulting in a hospital visit, five stitches and finally receiving his medication. When he returned to the prison, he said he was put in restraints for 20 hours, despite having long calmed down and no longer being at risk.

“I had asked one correctional officer who was cuffing one of my legs to loosen it, as it was too tight and hurting me. He said, ‘No.’ I blatantly said to him, ‘You’re torturing me.’ He said he didn’t care,” Himelstieb said. “I had such bad bruising, welts and slight bleeding.”

HB 1013 would prohibit the use of the restraints unless it is imminently necessary and all other options have been exhausted, in addition to establishing time limits for how long someone can be kept in restraints, requiring the restraints to be cloth instead of metal and requiring restrained people to be checked on more frequently.

The committee voted, 12-1, in support of the bill, advancing it to the House Appropriations Committee for further consideration. Only Rep. Bob Marshall, D-Highlands Ranch, voted against the bill.

“The concern I have is that we’re putting in statute medical standards of care,” Marshall said. “It seems like it’s far better if there was some administrative body that could prescribe those evolving standards.”