Child testimonies can be extremely compelling and influential for jurors and judges alike. Child witnesses are seen as unlikely to deceive, so they have high credibility. In addition, adults empathize with children on a deeper level than with other adults. However, placing a child on the stand can be risky, and it will require an enormous amount of preparation and attention to detail, in order to avoid infringing the child’s rights under Virginia’s Crime Victim and Witness Rights Act and provisions in the U.S. Code covering child victims’ and child witnesses’ rights.
Child Witness Protection Laws
Virginia law is extremely precise when it comes to the protection of children during court cases—especially when that child is compelled to testify against an abuser or about a crime he witnessed. The Crime Victim and Witness Rights Act, usually referred to as the Victims’ Bill of Rights, guarantees that testifying victims of crimes—adults and minors—will have the following rights:
- The right to have the opportunity to make the courts aware of the impact the crime had on the victim.
- The right to be treated with dignity, respect, and sensitivity.
- The right to have their privacy protected.
Underage witnesses—victims or crime-observers under the age of eighteen—have additional rights and regulations to protect their privacy, mental health, composure, and temperament. These include protective regulations for:
- Determining competency. Although a child is presumed to be competent enough to give a reliable testimony, a competency examination may be conducted by the court (only upon written motion and offer of proof of incompetency by a party) to protect the child from giving a false or incriminating testimony.
- Handling courtroom testimony. It is important for both the witness and your case that the minor is comfortable giving testimony in open court. If he isn’t, the court may decide on alternative forms of testimony. If he is, you must still tread carefully to avoid causing him too much stress or emotional trauma, as well as avoid opening him up for ridicule or danger from the person against whom he is testifying.
- Conducting alternative testimonies. When a child is unable to testify in open court in the presence of the defendant, the court will order that the minor’s testimony be taken by closed-circuit television or by pre-recorded means. Acceptable reasons for these alternative means of testifying include if the witness suffers from a mental or other physical condition, fears testifying in front of the defendant, exhibits potential for emotional trauma, or he becomes too stressed to proceed as a result of conduct caused by the defendant or defense counsel. By allowing the child to testify outside the courtroom, it removes the potential for emotional stress and allows the child to speak freely. Furthermore, these means of communication can also provide additional protection for the child by removing him from the reach of the defendant and stresses of the court.
Further Protections for Privacy and Well-Being
In addition to taking safety precautions for the protection of a child witness during his testimony, child witness laws require that minors’ testimonies are kept private to protect their identity. In other words, all papers that are filed with the court that disclose the name of a child witness or any information concerning his life (address, telephone number, family members, etc.) shall be immediately filed under a seal. This seal will ensure that the documentation and information therein will not be able to be accessed without a court order.
For more information on how to prepare and protect your witnesses’ rights during depositions and testimonies, browse our extensive blog for more articles. If you’re looking for a reliable service to record your witness’ statement, contact us directly at (703) 837-0076. We’ll be happy to schedule you a professional legal-recording session. In light of our 25 years’ worth of experience and expertise, you can be sure of our skills and that our high-quality productions will help you get the most out of your witness’ testimony. Call now.