The effects of cross-examination on children's reports
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 02:02 authored by Rhiannon Fogliati
The practices used to cross-examine child witnesses have remained largely unaltered, despite their distressing nature. This lack of modification is partly due to the assumption that cross-examination, as it is conventionally practiced, is "the greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of the truth" (Wigmore, 1904/1974, p. 32). However, research reveals that cross-examination reduces children's accuracy for neutral events (e.g., Zajac & Hayne, 2003). Child witnesses, though, are questioned about neutral events and transgressions. Despite this, the impact of cross-examination on children's transgression reports has not yet been assessed. This thesis therefore presents three laboratory-based studies designed to examine the effect of cross-examination on children's reports of neutral and transgressive events. Study 1 (61 kindergarten students, M(age) = 6 years, 5 months; 59 grade 2 students, M(age) = 8 years, 5 months) revealed that conventional cross-examination practices decreased children’s neutral event accuracy and failed to promote true transgression reports. Study 2 (74 kindergarten students, M(age) = 6 years, 0 months; 75 grade 3 students, M(age) = 8 years, 10 months) showed that although conventional cross-examination practices elicited true transgression reports from children who lied in accord with coaching, they led children who were not coached to recant their true transgression reports and reduced children's accuracy for neutral events. Study 3 (157 children aged 8-10 years) found that alternative cross-examination practices were as effective as conventional ones at uncovering coached transgression reports, while being more effective at preserving both the true transgression reports of children who were not coached and children’s neutral event accuracy. These studies indicate that although conventional cross-examination practices may promote true transgression reports from children who lie as a result of coaching, they may undermine other aspects of children's testimony. Further, the final study reveals the potential for designing alternative cross-examination practices which promote and uphold truthfulness better than the methods currently used in some jurisdictions.