How Reliable Is a Child’s Memory or Testimony in Court?

In allegations of sexual misconduct within a family, a key witness may be a child who was either involved in the alleged incident or who saw it happen. But can you actually trust the accounts that these children give when they’re trying to recall past events?

For instance, say you are accused of inappropriate sexual actions involving a stepchild. You remarried, your new spouse had a child from their marriage before they met you, and it is now this child — and possibly your new spouse — who is accusing you. No one else was home at the time that the incident supposedly occurred. If the child gives testimony of what they say happened, should the jury listen to them, or is there a chance that the child is just making the whole thing up?

There can be a lot of questions about children as witnesses. While they can be trustworthy in some cases, they also have “less developed memories” and are more open to suggestion. This could mean that they are easily influenced by outside sources — including from their other parent or investigators. The child may come to believe they remember something that never happened.

Maybe you were home alone with the child, for example, but the events did not cross any sexual lines. You may suspect that the child has been “coached” by their other parent to testify against you. Maybe this is a product of that parent’s paranoia and they are projecting their own concerns onto the child. The child then goes along with it, naturally trusting the parent and misinterpreting what happened. 

You can imagine how problematic this is if there is only one witness and they’re not giving an accurate account due to their age. You absolutely need to know what legal defense options you have. 

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