It has become more common these days for criminal defense lawyers to find themselves in circumstances that involve the cross-examination of child witnesses. These situations are extremely difficult, since cross-examination is often an aggressive form of witness interview.
The normal approach to cross-examination cannot be used with children, especially with younger children, as it can be very intimidating. Along with a number of other concerns that arise when child witnesses must be questioned, the process of cross-examination of children must be carefully considered and executed.
Controversies When Questioning Child Witnesses
Witnesses are vital to a criminal case. Testimony from eyewitnesses can help support claims made by a defendant as well as challenge those made by the prosecution. Criminal defense lawyers choose their eyewitnesses carefully, seeking to bring forth individuals who will provide to the court an honest account of what they witnessed.
So when lawyers must interview children, there can be much concern as to whether the child is remembering the event as it really happened or if their remembrance of the event has been affected by a number of external influences.
Considering the fact that children can be more easily manipulated or say what they feel is expected of them when under stress, the need to cross-examine children leaves many people wondering if such testimony is actually useful.
What Happens When Children Must Be Questioned?
When there is a need to cross-examine child witnesses, criminal defense lawyers find themselves caught between the need to provide the best defense for their clients and having to adjust their protocols to effectively deal with a child witness.
This is based on a number of things which suggest that children can be easily manipulated and victimized, are often believable simply because they are children, and it is often perceived that interviewing them may be unnecessary or potentially harmful.
The challenge lies in the fact that even though all of these points may be true, a defendant is still entitled to a fair trial. When a child is witness to a crime or related event, it makes them an important eyewitness.
The Challenge of Cross-Examining Children
The cross-examination of children must be carefully handled by defense lawyers who may use alternative interview methods. Once the jury has granted permission to cross-examine the child witness, lawyers must then prepare him or her for this process differently than how an adult would be prepared.
Lawyers must learn as much as they can about the child, their interests, family dynamics, and medical or school records as applicable in order to relate to them and help them feel at ease. They must interview them ahead of time and develop a trusting relationship with the child to help make the cross-examination process less stressful in the courtroom setting.
In addition, criminal defense lawyers must amend their cross-examination protocols in order to obtain critical information from the child without causing the jury to feel the child is being harmed in any way by the questioning process. The techniques used will differ greatly from those used with adults as well as vary from child to child.
Cross-examination of a child witness can be extremely sensitive in nature, requiring a lengthy preparation and careful court room handling. Criminal defense lawyers generally prefer not to cross-examine children; however, they are also obligated to provide the best legal service to their clients. Such challenging circumstances demand careful handling by expert lawyers who are experienced in child cross-examination and can be effective in acceptable ways.
Garza & Elizondo, LLP
680 East St. Charles St, Suite 600
Brownsville TX 78520
1393 East Alton Floor Blvd, Suite 12
Brownsville TX 78526