Attorney Questions Predict Jury-Eligible Adult Assessments of Attorneys, Child Witnesses, and Defendant Guilt
34 Behavioral Sciences and the Law 178 (2016)
23 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2016 Last revised: 29 Apr 2016
Date Written: April 28, 2016
Children are often the primary source of evidence in maltreatment cases, particularly cases of child sexual abuse, and may be asked to testify in court. Although best-practice protocols for interviewing children suggest that interviewers ask open-ended questions to elicit detailed responses from children, during in-court testimony, attorneys tend to rely on closed-ended questions that elicit simple (often “yes” or “no”) responses (e.g., Andrews, Lamb, & Lyon, 2015; Klemfuss, Quas, & Lyon, 2014). How then are jurors making decisions about children’s credibility and ultimately the case outcome? The present study examined the effect of two attorney-specific factors (e.g., temporal structure and questioning phase) on mock jurors’ perceptions of attorney performance, child witness credibility, storyline clarity, and defendant guilt. Participants were randomly assigned to read a trial excerpt from one of eight conditions and were then asked to evaluate the attorney, child witness, and the case. Selected excerpts were from criminal court case transcripts and contained either high attorney temporal structure (e.g., use of temporal markers) or low temporal structure (e.g., frequent topic switching), involved direct or cross examination, and represented cases resulting in a conviction or acquittal. Child responses were kept consistent across all excerpts. Results showed that participants perceived the attorney’s performance and child’s credibility more favorably and thought the storyline was clearer when attorneys provided high rather than low temporal structure and when the excerpt contained direct rather than cross examination. Participants who read a direct rather than cross examination excerpt were also more likely to think the defendant was guilty. The study highlights the impact of attorney questioning style on mock jurors’ perceptions.
Keywords: child credibility, temporal structure, attorney questioning, juror decision-making
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