Showing 7 posts in Child Witness.
The researchers showed their subjects short videos of two adults talking about familiar animals. The speakers would either:
A. Make true statements about the animal in a hesitant voice
"Hmm, I guess whales live in the water?"
B. Make false statements about the animal in a confident voice
"Oh, I know! Whales live in the ground!"
The kids were then shown videos of the same two adults speaking about strange animals. The previously confident speaker would state facts with confidence, and the previously hesitant speaker remained hesitant while stating different facts. The participants were then asked whom they believed.
In children closer to the age of four, it was a 50/50 split: they were as likely to believe the confident liar as the hesitant truth-teller. But as they neared the age of five, participants were more likely to believe the previously accurate but hesitant individual, suggesting a year can make a big difference in terms of a child's evolution in the critical consumption of information.
This is an interesting study, not only for people who teach children, but for those who deal with child witnesses. A child's ability to think critically is a very important indicator of their ability to testify truthfully and to resist suggestive questions from investigators. Be sure that your expert witnesses are aware of this study and its ramifications for forensic work.
Authors of a recent study in Child Maltreatment argue that when children are reluctant to disclose abuse or give inconsistent details, it does not always mean that their disclosures are not credible. Rather, it may mean that investigators are biased against abuse allegations that do not conform to expected patterns. The study found that most sexually abused children in the study had disclosed abuse before anyone began investigating, while most physically abused children disclosed only after investigators started asking questions. Those findings indicated that investigators in sexual abuse cases rely more on disclosures than other evidence, while investigators in physical abuse cases relied more on other types of evidence. The authors concluded,
In the future, studies attempting to determine children's willingness to disclose abuse should consider how the abuse was suspected in the first place, whether there was corroborative evidence, and how the corroborative evidence may have influenced the interview and the child's report. Assertions that most abused children disclose abuse when questioned must be tempered in light of the fact that the most reluctant victims may be those least likely to be questioned about abuse and least likely to be substantiated as abused.
Attorneys handling these cases need to be aware of this active controversy about how to judge the credibility of a child's disclosure. The authors' view currently is in the minority, but studies such as these will gain more adherents.
According to this article, there is a growing trend to allow therapy dogs to comfort children during courtroom testimony. It will be interesting to see if this practice continues to grow, and if it starts showing up in civil cases.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals recently issued an interesting opinion, looking at what formalities are required to accept children as witnesses. In the Matter of Welfare of J.J.W., No. A09-639 (Minn. App. Feb. 9, 2010) involved a four-year-old child's testimony about sexual abuse by a 16-year-old relative.
I just learned about this new trend of having therapy dogs sit with children while the children testify in court. It will be interesting to see how this technique develops, and whether courts begin accepting the practice in civil trials as well.
I received a call recently from a friend asking for suggestions about an upcoming deposition of a child eyewitness to an accident. Like all good bloggers, I decided to share my thoughts here.
Guidelines & Protocols
The first thing I always recommend to people preparing for a child's deposition is to read several of the many good publications about forensic interviewing of children. Not everything in those guidelines will be relevant to your case, and most of them are geared toward sexual abuse investigations, but the guidelines synthesize many years of study and experience about how best to ask children questions about specific events. Some of the publications I recommend are the NIHD Interview Protocol (also explained in the Journal of Law and Contemporary Problems), the APSAC Practice Guidelines on Investigative Interviewing, and the Michigan Forensic Interviewing Protocol.
UPDATE: A friend pointed me to another good resource, Children in the Courtroom, published by NITA.
The next thing I recommend is . . .
From Say What?!, we get the following exchange with a child witness:
Judge: (To young witness) Do you know what would happen to you if you told a lie?
Witness: Yes, I would go to hell.
Judge: Is that all?
Witness: Isn't that enough?
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