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Eye Witness Testimony - Essay Example

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This paper reviews several research studies regarding various aspects of children's eyewitness testimony. These studies show that even children as young as 4 years of age can be trusted to understand the difference between truth and lies and to tell the truth about experiences that happened to them personally…
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Eye Witness Testimony
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Download file to see previous pages Interviewers must also be extremely careful in questioning children, and even adults, with certain personality characteristics to ensure that factual information is obtained.
In the not too distant past, it was believed that children should be seen and not heard. As a result, crimes against children were not often punished, or even acknowledged. During the past two decades, these once silent victims have now been given a voice (Goodman and Schaaf 1997). Their victimisers are now being brought to justice, and it is often the testimony of the children themselves that is the deciding factor in many of these trials. Children's eyewitness testimony is being utilised more frequently than ever before in the history of the legal system (White, Leichtman, and Ceci 1997). While this is an important step in the right direction, it does pose some questions. Do children really understand the difference between truth and lies How accurate are children's memories for past events - especially emotionally-charged events How easy is it to shape a child's answer with misinformation And what about timing Many cases are not even brought to trial for months or years after the event occurred. Can children accurately remember something that happened to them in the past All these questions, and more, have been answered in a vast body of literature on children's eyewitness testimony.
One of the main tenets of the judicial system is that all witness testimony must be truthful. Truth is an abstract concept that is not even readily comprehensible by some adults. For instance, there is the long-standing philosophical argument of whether truth is absolute or relative. Truth, as it is thought of in legal terms, must be absolute in order for the judicial system to function efficiently. Can children be expected to understand what absolute truth is, and to tell the truth when they are speaking about events that happened to them Josef Perner (1997) reviews several studies showing that young children can be relied upon to know the truth, and to speak it, although they may not develop a complete understanding of the truth until much later.
Children are aware of the differences between true and false as early as age two (Perner 1997). These younger children are prone to "false memories" and are quite susceptible to misinformation; thus, their testimony may not be as accurate as an older child's (Perner 1997). By age four, children begin to understand "why they know what they know," and it is about this same time that the very important ability to remember personal experiences becomes more fully developed (Perner 1997). It is safe to say that the memories of children within this age range can be trusted; however, Perner notes that an understanding of the reasons why one is morally obligated to speak the truth in a court of law does not become fully developed until a child is about nine or ten years of age (1997). According to Perner (1997), this understanding of moral duty is not crucial for effective witness testimony. What is crucial for effective witness testimony Accuracy. How accurate are children's memories of past events Even adults with tremendous memory capacities sometimes ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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