Defending a child’s allegation that Daddy or Uncle Bill “touched my private” or “made me touch his bottom” is an incredibly daunting task. Prosecutors, police, child protective services, and the general public believe young children rarely conjure-up these allegations out of nowhere. However, there’s a reservoir of research showing young children are susceptible to suggestive interviewing techniques by local child advocacy center employees, or even the police, who question a child once an outcry of this nature surfaces. Research on suggestive interviewing techniques has identified six types of interview behaviors associated with false outcries of sexual abuse. These interview behaviors are as follows:
1. Positive Consequences – Giving, promising, or implying praise, approval, agreement or other rewards to a child, or indicating the child could demonstrate desirable qualities like helpfulness or intelligence, by making a statement to the interviewer;
2. Negative Consequences – Criticizing or disagreeing with a child’s statements, or otherwise indicating the statement was incomplete, unbelievable, dubious, or disappointing;
3. Other People – Telling the child the interviewer has already received information from another person regarding the topics of the interview;
4. Questions Asked and Answered – Asking the child questions already unambiguously answered in the immediately preceding part of the interview;
5. Inviting Speculation – Asking the child to offer opinions or speculation about past events or framing the child’s task during the interview as using imagining or solving a mystery; and
6. Introducing Information – Introducing information not previously mentioned by the child. The new information in either an interviewer’s statement or question represents a substantial addition or discontinuity with the child’s previous statements.
These six suggestive interviewing techniques are by no means an exhaustive list of all the different ways a forensic interviewer might impose suggestive questioning on a child. However, these techniques are typically the primary focus of forensic analysis of child “victim” interviews. Bryan|College Station sexual assault defense lawyers need training to recognize a suggestive child interview. The better practice is to hire experts in the field to evaluate and critique an interviewer’s questioning of a child. If necessary, the experts can testify at trial, or inform prosecutors, that an interview was tainted by poor methods and technique.
Stephen Gustitis is a criminal defense lawyer in Bryan-College Station. He is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is also a husband, father, and retired amateur bicycle racer.