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Evaluating the Testimony of a Child

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Journal Volume: 12 Issue: 2 Dated: (Spring 1990) Pages: 115-133
M Avery
Date Published
19 pages
As more children are being called upon to testify in court, the judicial system has not addressed many of the factors which can directly influence the credibility of a child's testimony.
When a child takes the witness stand, the reliability of the child's memory is inevitably at issue. The manner of questioning is also at issue when child witnesses are involved in court. The goal when questioning a child who has been reported to be the victim of child abuse, for example, is to develop an approach to elicit the most truthful information from the child without causing undue trauma to the child. Children are no more prone to lying than adults, but little information about cognitive development is being made available to jurors to assist them in judging the credibility of child witnesses. An attorney in a child abuse trial has his or her own agenda; a judge committed to understanding the cognitive development of children, however, can assist in the important goal of eliciting accurate and truthful information. The suggestibility of young children is influenced by their understanding of the words used in the questions asked of them. The aim should be to develop examining techniques that maximize the child's ability to be accurate and truthful. At the same time, the techniques need to control misleading and suggestive influences in order to protect innocent adults. To prevent the perpetration of child abuse, alternatives are needed that address the special needs and abilities of children without sacrificing the defendant's constitutional rights. 102 footnotes