Sex Crime Testimony - Child Memory Issues

Washington Sex Crime Testimony - Child Memory Issues

Prosecutions for alleged sex offenses often rely on witness testimony to establish key elements of the state’s case, such as the acts that allegedly took place or the alleged lack of consent. State law, court rules, and the U.S. Constitution guarantee that a criminal defendant has the opportunity to confront any witnesses presented by the state to prove guilt, to challenge the witnesses’ reliability or veracity, and to object to the admissibility of a witness’ intended testimony. Child witnesses present unique problems in cases alleging one or more sex offenses, and their testimony may require a balance between the child’s interests and the defendant’s constitutional rights. A knowledgeable Washington sex crimes defense attorney can advise you of your rights in a sex crime prosecution involving a child witness. We will review the state’s case and evaluate the best way to respond to the testimony against you.

Issues Related to the Reliability of Child Testimony

Children present multiple difficulties with regards to evidence in a criminal case. They may have difficulty remembering details that the state must prove, or they may be too young to understand the situation. Children may be susceptible to the suggestions of child welfare workers or others during questioning about an alleged sex offense. Some studies have shown that young children may respond to questions during an investigation in a way that seems to please the questioners more than in a way that accurately reflects their own memories. In extreme cases, social workers and others have been accused of directing children’s answers, such as in the “false memory” scandals of the 1980s.

Competency Requirements for Witness Testimony

State and federal evidence rules require witnesses to be competent, meaning that they understand the difference between “true” and “false,” are prepared to give truthful testimony, and are capable of accurately remembering and describing the events they witnessed. Children generally have these abilities past a certain age, but may require assistance in communicating with the court. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that leading questions may be permissible when questioning children regarding abuse claims. Idaho v. Wright, 497 U.S. 805 (1990).

Defendant’s Right to Confront Witnesses in a Criminal Trial

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a defendant the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” Confronting a child witness can be a difficult prospect, given the child’s own possible issues with memory or trauma and the tendency of a jury to sympathize with a child over a defendant in almost any circumstance.

Child Testimony in Washington Sex Crimes Prosecutions

Washington law provides protections for children who, according to the state, suffer further trauma by testifying in a sex crimes case in the presence of the defendant. Under strictly-controlled circumstances, which require court approval after a hearing outside the presence of the jury, a child may testify from outside the courtroom via closed-circuit television. This situation requires a very careful response by a defendant’s attorney.

If you have been charged with an alleged sex offense in the Tacoma area involving a child, either as the alleged victim or as a witness, you need the assistance of an experienced Washington criminal defense lawyer who can advise you of your rights and protect you from mistakes in the courtroom. Timothy L. Healy has defended clients in prosecutions for alleged sex crimes throughout the state of Washington since 1995. By identifying police errors, challenging the state’s evidence, and vigorously defending our clients’ interests, we have obtained substantially reduced sentences, acquittals, probation and other deferred dispositions, and even outright dismissals of charges. Contact us today online or at (888) 312-3093 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.