This morning’s email brought an unsolicited advertisement for the Child Suggestibility Litigation Library, a $179 collection of materials analyzing two cases from New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It reminded me of a case I worked on as an intern where a 40-something father of two was accused by his 5-year-old daughter of molesting her. He was an upstanding businessman who had been having problems in his marriage and it turned out that his parents-in-law had never liked him and wanted nothing more than to see him out of their daughter’s life. It further turned out that the 5-year-old’s “accusations” originated in a “conversation” with grandma about how the girl and her daddy played together. To a less paranoid or negative mind, what the child said was nothing and no indication of anything illegal or even unusual, but in the mind of someone who was looking for reasons to make a wife want to leave a husband, the child’s words were prima facie evidence of abuse. The case was fascinating to me as an intern because it raised so many difficult issues about parents, children, witness reliability, and the way in which questions suggest can suggest their own answers—especially for 5-year-olds. For example, from my notes on that case:
“Simply asking a child if an event occurred will increase the chance that the child will later say that the event occurred, even if it did not.” Clayton Gillette, Appointing Special Masters to Evaluate the Suggestiveness of A Child-Witness Interview: A Simple Solution to A Complex Problem, 49 St. Louis L.J. 499, 499 (Winter 2005), citing Debra A. Poole & Michael E. Lamb, Investigative Interviews of Children: A Guide for Helping Professionals, 54 (1998). “An interviewer can implant a false ‘memory’ of an event into a child’s mind simply by asking about it.” Id.
I have no idea if the Child Suggestibility Litigation Library would have been helpful for us when we were working on that case, but at least the summary of the contents could be a good starting point for anyone faced with similar issues. [tags]suggestibility, children, youths, witness reliability[/tags]