23. Assessing children’s competency to take the oath in court: The influence of question type on children’s accuracy.Law & Human Behavior (Published 2012) (2011)
This study examined children’s accuracy in response to truth–lie competency questions asked in court.The participants included 164 child witnesses in criminal child sexual abuse cases tried in Los AngelesCounty over a 5-year period (1997–2001) and 154 child witnesses quoted in the U.S. state and federalappellate cases over a 35-year period (1974 –2008). The results revealed that judges virtually never foundchildren incompetent to testify, but children exhibited substantial variability in their performance based on question-type. Definition questions, about the meaning of the truth and lies, were the most difficultlargely due to errors in response to “Do you know” questions. Questions about the consequences of lyingwere more difficult than questions evaluating the morality of lying. Children exhibited high rates of errorin response to questions about whether they had ever told a lie. Attorneys rarely asked childrenhypothetical questions in a form that has been found to facilitate performance. Defense attorneys askeda higher proportion of the more difficult question types than prosecutors. The findings suggest thatchildren’s truth–lie competency is underestimated by courtroom questioning and support growing doubtsabout the utility of the competency requirements.
- child witnesses,
- child abuse,
- child neglect,
- child development,
- child psychology
Citation InformationEvans, A. D., & Lyon, T. D. (2012). Assessing children’s competency to take the oath in court: The influence of question type on children’s accuracy. Law & Human Behavior, 36, 195-205.