Child abuse cases tend to be emotional and extremely complex. It is essential everyone involved in the decision-making in a child abuse case have a keen understanding of the issues involved. An expert witness can assist an attorney who is handling a child abuse case and can serve as a valuable resource for the jury and the judge.
What is the role of an expert witness in a child abuse case?
Expert witnesses in child abuse cases ensure that there is accurate information given to jurors involved in making decisions.
Child abuse cases can be very challenging. They frequently include issues that pose challenges to effective prosecution including the lack of hard evidence. They typically do not have any third-party eyewitness testimony and can contain unambiguous medical or physical evidence. There might be delays in disclosing a crime, or contradictory or inconsistent statements and recantation given by victims.
In many instances, this would mean the case does not meet the legal standard necessary for a conviction, but child abuse cases might be handled differently. There are varying studies regarding how reliable a child’s testimony is and it is important for an expert witness to help the jury understand how seriously to take a child’s account of an event.
An expert witness can be useful or necessary for educating jurors about facts they might not otherwise know and for providing research-based testimony to correct misunderstandings that exist among jurors. Juror knowledge and experience is going to vary from case to case. Expert testimony can be useful in helping jurors evaluate the testimony of a child witness or other important evidence.
Expert witnesses can also clear up misconceptions about abuse in general. For instance, more than half of jurors in previous cases believed that most children sustain physical injuries from sexually abuse, even though this is not the case. Others there should be physical evidence to substantiate the allegation. Others have expressed their opinion that children often resist abuse in most cases and they allowed their misconceptions and predetermined stereotypes of who is capable of abusing children to interfere with their verdicts.
It has been common place for jurors to demonstrate a lack of accurate knowledge concerning a variety of topics including:
- Children’s memory capabilities
- Proper interview techniques
- Professionals’ inability to accurately detect
child sexual abuse
- Symptoms of child sexual abuse
- The fact that some children believe the
fictitious events they describe
- That some children invent stories of having been
sexually abused in the absence of such
Allegations of child sexual abuse tend to be extremely complex to prosecute and to defend. These cases often require specialized knowledge about children’s reactions to sexual abuse, as well as proper forensic interviewing procedures. This is the only way for a jury to accurately weigh evidence in these cases. And despite most jurors having at least some accurate knowledge regarding specific issues of child sexual abuse, there are still a great many gaps in their knowledge. An expert witness can help to strengthen the case an attorney is presenting and make it easier for a jury to make an informed ruling.