Is a child a reliable witness?

Many factors, including development stage, relationship to the case and preparation, can impact how reliable a child witness is.

When a Tennessee resident goes through a criminal case, he or she wants to have the best witnesses possible. In some situations, this could mean that children have to act as an eyewitness to an incident. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, roughly 100,000 underage people provide testimony in court over the course of a single year. Since 1895 when the first child witness was allowed to provide testimony in a courtroom, this number has continued to rise.

Developmental stage matters

It is unsurprising that the age of the child can greatly impact whether he or she will be a reliable witness in a criminal defense case. Children as young as three have the capacity to remember and explain an experience. This ability could allow even young kids to act as a witness. However, it is not only their ability to remember an event that is important. Children may be more likely to be coerced into giving false testimony because they want to appease the adults in their lives.

Relationship to the case matters

If a child is expected to testify for or against a parent, it could become slightly problematic. Someone that young is more likely to bend the truth to aid someone he or she knows over a stranger. In some circumstances, it may be necessary for a child to act as a witness for or against someone that he or she knows, such as a parent or another family member. When this happens, it will be very important for the child's reliability to be clearly demonstrated for the court.

Whether the child was a witness or a victim of the crime can also impact how reliable he or she is on the stand. If a young person is expected to testify against someone who hurt him or her, the testimony could be tainted by fear.

Preparation matters

While children can be considered less reliable than adults because of their suggestibility, it does not mean that they cannot testify. In situations where the testimony of the child is necessary to a case, it will simply require more in-depth preparation. This could include practicing answering questions, testing the child's memory or proving credibility through a judicial assessment. Often, the courtroom may be cleared of observers to make the young person more comfortable. Depending on the age of the witness, he or she may be able to have a support person accompany him or her to the stand.

Tennessee children may be able to act as witnesses in a court case if it can be demonstrated that they have the memory and reliability to provide accurate testimony. It can be beneficial to work with an attorney familiar with criminal defense cases.