Complex Questions Asked by Defense Lawyers but Not Prosecutors Predicts Convictions in Child Abuse Trials

Law & Human Behavior, Forthcoming

USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 09-19

Posted: 14 May 2009 Last revised: 22 Jun 2009

See all articles by Angela D. Evans

Angela D. Evans

Institute of Child Study (Brock University)

Kang Lee

Institute of Child Study

Thomas D. Lyon

University of Southern California Gould School of Law

Abstract

Attorneys' language has been found to influence the accuracy of a child's testimony, with defense attorneys asking more complex questions than the prosecution (Zajac & Hayne, J. Exp Psychol Appl 9:187-195, 2003; Zajac et al. Psychiatr Psychol Law, 10:199-209, 2003). These complex questions may be used as a strategy to influence the jury's perceived accuracy of child witnesses. However, we currently do not know whether the complexity of attorney's questions predict the trial outcome. The present study assesses whether the complexity of questions is related to the trial outcome in 46 child sexual abuse court transcripts using an automated linguistic analysis. Based on the complexity of defense attorney's questions, the trial verdict was accurately predicted 82.6% of the time. Contrary to our prediction, more complex questions asked by the defense were associated with convictions, not acquittals.

Suggested Citation

Evans, Angela D. and Lee, Kang and Lyon, Thomas D., Complex Questions Asked by Defense Lawyers but Not Prosecutors Predicts Convictions in Child Abuse Trials. Law & Human Behavior, Forthcoming; USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 09-19. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1404222

Angela D. Evans

Institute of Child Study (Brock University) ( email )

500 Glenridge Avenue
St. Catherines, Ontario L2S 3A1
Canada

Kang Lee (Contact Author)

Institute of Child Study ( email )

Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G8
Canada

Thomas D. Lyon

University of Southern California Gould School of Law ( email )

699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States
213-740-0142 (Phone)
213-740-5502 (Fax)

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