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Children's Out-of-Court Statements: Effects of Hearsay on Jurors' Decisions, Final Report

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1999
274 pages
Spurred by the U.S. Supreme Court's 1990 decision dealing with child hearsay in Idaho v. Wright, courts are focusing increased attention on the reliability of children's out-of-court statements in child sexual abuse trials.
In the Idaho v. Wright case, the U.S. Supreme Court elaborated the factors trial judges may consider when assessing the reliability of child hearsay offered under residual or catchall exceptions to the hearsay rule. At trial, the jury may hear about the child victim's prior description of abuse in several ways. If the child is not available for live trial testimony, the child's earlier out-of-court statements describing the abuse may be repeated in court by an adult who interviewed the child. Alternatively, a videotaped recording of the child's out-of-court statements can be introduced. In either case, repetition of the child's out-of-court statements is what constitutes hearsay. The current project investigated the effects of children's out-of-court statements on juror perceptions of witness credibility and defendant guilt, and three studies were conducted. The first study involved holding elaborate mock trials with community members as jurors. Mock jurors were presented with children's testimony in one of three experimental conditions (live, on videotape, or via an adult witness who interviewed the child prior to trial). The second study also involved holding elaborate mock trials but trials were based on actual child sexual assault cases. Mock jurors were presented with children's allegations via videotaped investigative interviews or via an adult hearsay witness. Moreover, a third set of jurors in the second study viewed the videotape during trial and were allowed access to the videotape during jury deliberations. The third study involved distributing detailed surveys to actual jurors who had just reached a verdict in child sexual abuse trials. In all three studies, juror judgments of child and adult hearsay witnesses and of defendant guilt were obtained. Results showed jurors treated adult hearsay witness testimony with a degree of skepticism that led to doubts about case details and children's disclosures and thus indirectly affected decisions on defendant guilt. Findings are discussed in relation to legal concerns about the admission of hearsay. Interview forms and questionnaires used in the study are appended. 57 references, 37 tables, and 4 figures

Date Published: January 1, 1999