When a minor alleges rape in Nebraska, the police will take the juvenile to a forensic interview. In Omaha, most forensic interviews take place at Project Harmony, where the child is placed in a comfortable interview room equipped with audio and video recording devices. An interview is then conducted by someone with specialized training in interviewing children.
Children are easily influenced. When a child is asked about sexual assault, an interviewer may suggest answers which may or may not be true, leading the child to give false information. For these reasons, a forensic interviewer asks non-suggestive, non-leading questions.
CHILD FORENSIC INTERVIEWS GONE BAD
The purpose of the forensic interview is to prevent false sex assault allegations. However, when the interviews are not conducted in accordance with the correct protocol, the child may simply tell the interviewer what he or she believes the interviewer wants to hear. In some cases where there are multiple forensic interviews or a question is asked multiple times, the child will figure out that he or she is not giving the answer that the interviewer wants to hear.
Sometimes false child sex assault allegations are the result of improper questioning long before the forensic interview occurs. For example, imagine a couple with a young child is be going through a nasty divorce. The child’s grandmother asks about how her father bathes her, intentionally or unintentionally making the child believe a normal bath was wrong or inappropriate. The child may then fill in the blanks with what she thinks grandma wants to hear. By the time police have been called and a forensic interview is conducted, the child may have been questioned a dozen times, irreversibly tainting her memory of events.
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THE ALTERNATIVE HYPOTHESIS
The term “forensics” leads us to believe that an investigation is scientific in nature. However, forensic interviewers sometimes fail to incorporate sound scientific principles into interviews when they don’t explore alternative hypotheses regarding the allegations. Such failure violates nationally-recognized standards and common practices in the field of psychiatry and forensic interviews.
Sometimes an alternative hypothesis is that the memory of the child was tainted by a well-meaning relative or family friend who “didn’t trust” the accused. Other times the alternative hypothesis comes from a statement the child makes during the interview, such as: “I don’t really know if it happened, it may have just been a dream.”
Dr. Erna Olafson of the Childhood Trust is one of the leading experts in forensic interviewing training. She asserts that the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (“NICHD” hereinafter) protocol is the most evidence-based protocol for conducting forensic interviews. The NICHD protocol follows the scientific principle that if something in a forensic interview is atypical or strange, follow-up and further exploration are required to determine if there is an underlying medical or psychiatric issue behind the allegations.
HOW CAN THE ACCUSED FIGHT A BAD FORENSIC INTERVIEW?
Any person charged with a crime has the Sixth Amendment right to present a defense under the Compulsory Clause of the United States Constitution. This includes presenting alternate theories to the jury that oppose that which the State presents. Often this means calling an expert witness to challenge the qualifications and competency of the forensic interviewer.
In Nebraska, expert testimony is admissible when the expert’s testimony is scientific and will assist the trier of fact. Neb. R. St. §27-702.
HIRING A DEFENSE ATTORNEY
False allegations in child sex assault cases can occur when a child is manipulated intentionally or through negligent questioning. Forensic interviewers are used to prevent this, but the system is not flawless. When forensic interviews are not conducted to standard, a criminal defense attorney must attack the faulty forensic interviews through the use of expert witnesses and relentless cross-examination.
If you have been falsely accused of sexual assault, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Berry Law today.