The use of child witnesses is a controversial yet necessary aspect of many sex crimes cases. Sometimes, the child might be the only witness to the alleged crime. In other cases, the prosecutor will seek to strengthen his or her case by swaying the jury through the use of a child witness. Indeed, there are few witnesses who hold more emotional power than children.
Unfortunately, children are easily manipulated and their memories are notoriously unreliable. They are highly susceptible to suggestion and unscrupulous prosecutors or even vengeful co-parents can prod children into testifying about crimes that have simply not occurred. How can you fight back against such odds?
Recently named to the Super Lawyers list of the best criminal defense lawyers in the nation, Ned Barnett will do everything in his power to keep a child’s false testimony from ruining your life. By carefully getting to know and collecting information about the child and his or her family, attorney Barnett will be ready to effectively cross-examine the child and highlight the inconsistencies in his or her testimony.
Research Shows that Children May Be Particularly Unreliable Witnesses
There is a growing body of research suggesting that all humans–including adults–are relatively bad at giving factually accurate accounts of events that they have witnessed. The context and nature of the event, the time that has elapsed since its occurrence, and the manner in which the witness is questioned all have a significant impact on the quality of the testimony. Children actually have a strong ability to absorb and retain information. The problem is, they also tend to make up memories that didn’t actually happen.
According to a 2012 National Institute of Health funded study by Doctors Principe and Schindewolf, children have a higher tendency than adults to confuse actual memories with conversations about past events. The meddling of conversation and memory may create over time “entirely false narratives that are more detailed than true accounts of experienced events.” To make matters worse, the more children participate in “memory sharing dialogues,” the more entrenched the false memories may become.
If having conversations about the past is damaging to a child’s memories, consider the damage that may be done by an investigator, actively trying to have a child articulate his or her recollections. Such aggressive questioning by even a well-meaning adult can result in the false memories. According to Doctor Stephen Ceci of Cornell University, an internationally renowned expert in developmental psychology: “If you keep coming at very young children, a very, very high percentage of them will break down and tell you what they think you want to hear.”
The most notorious example of the effects of children’s suggestibility on a criminal investigation occurred in the 1980s in the McMartin Preschool of Manhattan Beach, a suburb of Los Angeles. The young students provided enough testimony to issue more than 200 charges on seven adult employees of the school. Over the course of six years of trials, all of the accused went free after it emerged that the children’s accounts–which included sexual abuse, forced blood drinking, and even a decapitation–were entirely fictitious. The investigators had pushed the children into remembering things that simply did not happen.
How Can Ned Barnett Defend Against Child Witness Testimony?
All witnesses are presumed able to testify in a criminal proceeding; however, a witness may be considered incompetent if he or she lacks the cognitive ability to answer questions. While most children over three or four years old will be considered competent witnesses, your criminal defense lawyer can and should challenge their particular competency. This gives your attorney the opportunity to get to know the child before the trial, which is useful because a child will be far more receptive during cross-examination if he or she knows the questioner.
Once the child’s competency has been established, the State may try to invoke Texas Code of Criminal Procedure article 38.071, which allows children under 13 to present their testimony from outside of the courtroom. Your lawyer should resist this motion and request a hearing during which the State will need to provide evidence that there are emotional or psychological reasons as to why the child cannot testify in front of the accused.
The hearing will typically be over pre-recorded or closed circuit television and will give your lawyer the opportunity to obtain evidence regarding the child’s cognitive abilities and psychological state by hearing testimony from not only the child, but also his or her counselor or therapist. The more statements from and about the child are on the record before the trial starts, the better.
Your lawyer will also review all of the available records pertaining to the child witness, from medical records to school records. This evidence may allow your lawyer to disprove the child’s testimony later on. For example, if the child made allegations against a teacher, school records may show that the child was not enrolled in the accused teacher’s class at the time when the sex crimes allegedly occurred.
It will also be essential to uncover the reason why the child is giving false testimony. For this, your lawyer will need to understand the child’s family circumstances–or any other factors that might be affecting the child. Your lawyer’s approach to this issue will depend on whether the child is intentionally or unknowingly offering false testimony. Is the child seeking attention from neglectful parents? Or is an angry and manipulative parent using the child to voice false accusations against a former partner?
An Uncompromising Defense of Your Sex Crimes Case
When a child is testifying against you in a sex crimes case, another layer of complexity has been added to an already high-stakes situation. Under such intense circumstances, you can’t afford to have anything except the most skilled legal representation possible. As an experienced and respected member of the Texas legal community, attorney Ned Barnett is the top choice for suspects seeking a capable Houston sex crimes lawyer. With a reputation for leaving no stone unturned in defending a case, attorney Barnett is ready to help find the best possible resolution to your case