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According to Thompson (2019), since the early 1980s, children have been used as witnesses in Criminal Court, civil courts or family courts. Currently, more than 100000 children appear to participate in courts every year. This shows how important the information gathered from the children is essential to the court proceedings. Thompson (2019) also states, children were allowed to provide testimonies in courts from the year 1895 after the United States Supreme Court allowed five- and half-year-old child to serve as a witness to a case. It, later on, became estimated that more than 100 thousand children appeared in courts with the growing awareness of child abuse and the continuous increase of domestic violence (Thompson, 2019). A growing body of science and literature of psychology have given various psychological consequences of children being used as witnesses and experiencing violence in the courts. Such findings show various proposals for modifications in courts. The recommendations are meant to accommodate the children by allowing those who hold objects and accompanied by an elderly person while they are giving their testimony. This accommodation has proven to be helpful for the children who are testifying outside the people involved in the case (McKenna, 2019). Child witness requires a complete understanding of forensic interviewing to obtain all the information from the people involved and by following the right procedures without affecting the child psychologically or physically. This paper will, therefore, explore children witness laws, challenges encountered in the process, ways to prepare children for a witness statement, available policies and new policies to be adopted to ensure children rights are well protected in children witness cases.
Challenges affecting Children Witness during Forensic Interviewing
Children juvenile behaviours make them vulnerable as witnesses in the courts. These characteristics are enormous challenges that come with the forensic interviewing. These factors also affect the abilities of children to give statements as a witness and these factors can be categorized into cognitive, social, and emotional factors. Cognitive factors are those factors that are related to the ability of the children to accurately recall their experiences and report them effectively through the application of the right communication skills. This is a considerable problem because it can lead to false information (Pantell, & Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, 2017).
Social and emotional factors come in because of social interaction between the child and the interviewer and the willingness of the children to recall the experience that could be included in the report. These factors affect the capabilities of the eyewitness, and they are independent of each other. For instance, a child present in a crime can recall their experience but may be unwilling to give honest accounts because of the fear. Some children are afraid testifying can result in broken relationships. Often they care about the impact their witness statement will have on the link that they have with the caregiver. The child may also feel ashamed of the experience; therefore, become unwilling to disclose any of the allegation (McKenna, 2019). Sometimes the child can fail to recall the experiences effectively to be used in the court proceedings. Cognitive factors are those that affect the children's ability to communicate effectively. These cognitive factors include communication skills and the questioning strategies that are used by the interviewer.
The Best Practice on child Witness Preparation
Various practices have been put forth by organizations such as UNICEF that gives the best practices in regards to witnessing preparation when the child is involved. Many criminal justice professionals have difficulty in working with children and children find the experiences of being witnesses and giving statements a challenging task and intimidating. In most cases, the children end up traumatized and often give inadequate statements that are not supportive; therefore, cannot be used in a court of law (Thompson, 2019). These facts are shared among the survivors of sexual abuse and children who have been exploited by their relatives or friends of their families. To keep children safe from any form of violation by any party involved, the law should shield children. In addition, specific recommendations and policies should be made to not only protect but also psychologically prepare children as witnesses.
One of them is protecting and safeguarding children's rights as an essential task to undertake as a legal Justice professional. For vulnerable children, the legal process starts with the investigation. The method of testifying in court can sometimes be a traumatic experience for the children and more upsetting. The stress that comes with the process requires improved standards to help the children participate in the legal process smoothly. Policies set need to help the child feel secure throughout the process without fear of future intimidation, and in exchange, the child openly provides evidence truthfully giving equal opportunity for parties involved. In courtrooms, an eyewitness may be seen as a source of information. Therefore, the court needs to access the information most accurately to make a decision well pursuing a conviction for the accused individual. Not all the information given by the witness can be used as support for the information. It is also presented as a key to the successful prosecution. The court has to be convinced that the witness is giving credible information that is believed. For this reason, it is vital to have a holistic approach that protects the right of the children leading to the process of obtaining accurate information.
For example, it is essential to realize that the relationship of the child and involved parties especial in a family case will affect the quality of evidence that the child gives during testimony. In case the parents are the only existing caregivers to the child or presence of misunderstanding of the situation, it becomes painful. The child is likely to be confident as opposed to a situation where children feel threatened by relatives or parents. The initial police interview may also have an impact on the statements that are given. If the officer taking the interview had provided the initial report, it might affect the information obtained in the second time if the officer is not trained. The quality of evidence is that it is given by the child depends on several factors. One is the cognitive ability and the language perception of the child. The personnel who are involved in the process are also a factor. Therefore, they should be trained enough to allow the child to give the right information willingly without any form, of course. Rules and regulations should strictly be followed during the child interview. The professional should know that they cannot place themselves in the child position and cannot force their perspectives as well to the witness. In an instance where the child does not have mental stability and the child is incapability logical reasoning, the professional cannot focus on a specific problem. The primary goal of these jurisdictions is to reduce the trauma of child victims and witnesses that they come into contact during the criminal justice procedure (McKenna, 2019). Despite the criminal justice and federal statue giving guidelines for substantial protection for the children, the majority of them have remained victims or witnesses for different crimes where they are needed to perform or to provide life testimonies.
Other cases have been settled through live recordings and videotape testimonies. In order to protect the rights of children, the 2005 attorney general's report gave room for the appointment of a guardian who protects the interest of the child (McKenna, 2019). Some states expand provisions by offering children the opportunity to involve their guardians when they witnessed violence. Violence in the homes that are directed towards the child has formed a subsequent proportion of cases in the courts that are involving children. The national child abuse reported 3.4 million cases that have unique instances of domestic violence (McKenna, 2019). The number of cases where children also testify unknown and no children in court is also highly valuable.
Weaknesses Defense Lawyers Look For when Conducting Forensic Interviews
Forensic interviews are based on multiple players and can lead to long hours with numerous players into the case. Defence lawyers, therefore, look for weaknesses when conducting a forensic interview, for example, the lawyer's ability to force the child to admit to statements that are not true. Defence lawyers could also accuse the forensic interviewers of spending too much time with the child, thereby confusing the child to admitting the case is presented before the court. The interviewer could also be accused of asking penetrating questions, which leads to the admission of fraud. A forensic interview that is adequately conducted can turn into an information source obtained illegally.
There is always a fine line between pushing the subject to deal with internal conflict and maintaining a professional relationship with a child. The children are also likely to present at the wrong place and at the wrong time. Before conducting an interview, it is essential to prepare the right documentation and questions. A defence lawyer could look for a fault in the questions conducted, if they were not well searched or framed in a way that the child can understand. Forensic interviews usually involve a group of people in the process; one person asks the question as the other contemplates on nature of the question asked and whether it holds a purpose in the cases. A forensic lawyer should look for forced evidence from the child so that the information is not misinterpreted or taken out of context by the court or by the interviewer.
How to Cross-examinee Question Asked during a Forensic Interview
Cross-examination allows the defence attorney to further explore the testimonies provided during the examination. Many attorneys use this process as an opportunity for the lawyers to testify through the witness. There are ways in which the forensic interview can be cross-examined on the stand so that the questions asked can be tested for validity. The most common tactics include giving rapid-fire questions to the child as required, as well as using the best friend approach (Pantell & Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. 2017). The other methodology is demanding a "yes or no" answer for questions that may need further explanation to determine the most effective answer given by the child. A sample cross-examination question includes asking the child whether the disclosure involved contact of any sexual nature before a child was interviewed. In courts, cross-examination is the most common tactic applied by lawyers to get information from witnesses and the information that the witness offers during the testimony. The lawyer asked witnesses questions in relation to the case that is on trial. These tactics can be used during the forensic interview; therefore, cross-examining the questions on the stand can show whether the right processes used or not.
Advocating Needs of a Child Witness within the Court System
As a child advocate, a paediatrician can sometimes encourage parents and guidance to obtain child witnesses and give all the necessary accommodations or services within the court. There are several comforts to the child under federal and state law where the people should give the child comfort and exclusion of press or unnecessary questioning. The child should also be protected f...
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