Age Differences in Eyewitness Testimony Essay

8669 Words Jun 12th, 2012 35 Pages
Law and Human Behavior, Vol. 10, No. 4, 1986

Age Differences in Eyewitness Testimony*
Gail S. Goodmant and Rebecca S. Reed1:

This study examined age differences in eyewitness testimony. Children, three and six years of age, and adults interacted with an unfamiliar man for 5 minutes. Four or five days later, the witnesses answered objective and suggestive questions, recalled what happened, and tried to identify the confederate from a target-present photo line-up. The adults and 6-year-olds did not differ in their ability to answer objective questions or identify the confederate, but 6-year-olds were more suggestible than adults and recalled less about the event. Compared to the older age groups, the 3-year-olds answered fewer
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In an attempt to deal with the dilemmas posed by child witnesses, courts and legislatures have passed special laws governing children's testimony. While there is no minimum age below which a child cannot testify, many states maintain laws requiring competence examinations of children who are under a certain age, e.g., 10 years. These examinations, which date back to English common law (Rex v. Braddon and Speke, 1684; Rex v. Braiser, 1779), consist of an interview by the judge and/or attorneys in an attempt to determine the child's intelligence, memory, ability to distinguish truth from lies, and understanding of the necessity to speak the truth. The decision as to the child's competence falls under the judge's discretion. The current trend is to liberalize these restrictions. 1 The new Federal Rules of Evidence (Rule 601) eliminate the requirement for competence examinations of children in federal courts, and at least 13 states have followed suit (Bulkley, 1982; Melton, Bulkley, & Wulkan, 1983). Other states (e.g., Colorado) have eliminated the requirement only for certain crimes, notably sexual assault. A few jurisdictions now permit videotaped deposition in place of in-court testimony by children (Bulkley, 1982). The liberalization of these and other laws, such as hearsay exceptions (Bulkley, 1983), pave the way…

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