Due to the fact that children are highly open to suggestion and often-unreliable sources of testimony in a criminal case, effective cross-examination of any child witness is essential. It is critical to seek the truth without crossing a line and unreasonably pushing children to answer tough questions, and a skilled sex crimes defense lawyer will understand how to obtain the complete truth without causing undue stress or emotional trauma to a child in court. Our lawyers have been working in sex crime cases for over 10 years, and know some of the cross examination tactics that are effective in sensitive cases involving children. Read more below about Michigan child witness examination guidelines and strategies.
If a jury allows a defense lawyer to cross examine a child witness who has been called to the stand, there are a number of questions usually on their minds that an attorney should work to answer through questioning. Jurors want to know why a child would potentially lie about a sex offense, how a child has gained knowledge concerning sexual acts if not for abuse, reasons to make up a story in the particular case, and other similar queries. Defendants should expect their lawyer to attempt to deal with these questions throughout the case, so that when cross-examination of a witness begins, the jury has less questions and more time to focus on what is being said.
Probably the most important element of cross examination is preparation. It is crucial that an attorney know as much as possible about a child, that child’s records, interests, family situation, psychological health, and any other aspects deemed potentially necessary. If it is possible to set up an interview with a child before the trial begins, an attorney should carefully consider utilizing this opportunity. It is possible to then establish if a child is fit to testify, and if so, how he or she might answer particular questions. It is also important to gain access to as much of a record on a potential witness as possible, and to examine the family situation of that child, which could explain potential motivations for a false sex offense allegation or a different perception of an event than reality. Psychological examination is also essential, as it may provide a way to prove that a child is not able to testify in court.
There are a number of reasons why a child could be unable to testify, or why a testimony may be taken off record. If the child is subject to emotional, psychological, or physical harm as a result of testifying, the court may opt not to hear from him or her. In addition, it can be shown that in some cases, children have been coached on what specifically to say, which would render their testimony unreliable. It is critical to not cause any undue stress to children who are already caught up in a complicated criminal case, however if cross examination in court is necessary, there are certain steps that should be taken to ensure it is done correctly.
At the beginning of a cross examination, a lawyer should try to establish trust with a child, and help him or her relax by making conversation. During this stage, the personality of a child can be assessed, which could be helpful later on. Next, a lawyer will probably try to establish some basic facts about the child, such as where he or she lives, with whom, what his or her basic interests or hobbies are, etc. Psychological elements must also be determined, including reasons for stress.
There are also a number of “don’ts” when it comes to cross examination of children. Manipulating children, pushing for emotional responses, or trying to confuse child witnesses so that they cannot answer will not help the opinion of your lawyer in front of the jury, and could cost you your case, which is why it is a good idea to work with a top ranked, experienced law firm.
To learn more about effective cross examination and the problems that sometimes arise with child witnesses, call 1-800-342-7896 or contact our team online now. Grabel & Associates is available 24/7 to anyone facing a criminal sex offense charge.