Videoing Child Interviews Safeguards Your Case
A prosecutor’s office in Macomb County, Michigan was recently challenged for not videoing child victim interviews– by the defendant.
How can this be? Well, as it turns out, the defendant’s lawyers honed in on a critical point: Macomb County’s policy of conducting non-recorded interviews was out of step with state protocols. The defense attorneys argued that the prosecution had failed to provide them with evidence they were entitled to– evidence which might be exculpatory. They also stated that the interview was the foundation of the prosecution’s case, and that if they hadn’t followed proper procedure, then the case was fundamentally flawed.
Fortunately, the judge who heard this argument found there was adequate evidence to proceed, and the defendant was found guilty and received a stiff sentence. But what might have happened had the judge been more receptive to the defense attorneys’ argument? If you’re not videoing your child interviews, could you be jeopardizing your case?
There are many reasons why videoing a child interview might be a good idea. One is the simple fact that you’ll reduce the number of times the child has to relive the event. Child witnesses also have a high level of recantation, and video provides incontrovertible evidence that a child did make an accusation. In fact, video testimony can be used to help refresh a child’s memory in the event that they do have to testify in court.
There are cons, too, as with any complex issue. Notably, there are understandable concerns that allowing the accused to watch the video re-victimizes the child. For this reason, most prosecutors who use videoed child interviews set limits that fall short of releasing the video to the defense attorneys. Generally, the video is watched in judge’s chambers by the judge, the defense attorney, and possibly the defendant. As we’ve discussed before, being confronted with video testimony tends to elicit a higher number of confessions, and this seems to hold true in child abuse cases, as well.
While the Supreme Court has made statements in support of videoing child interviews, they’ve thus far stopped short of mandating it. This means, of course, that responsibility for deciding whether recordings are required falls to the states. That brings us back to an important point regarding Michigan, the state where the case we’re discussing was prosecuted. While the Macomb County prosecutor is against videoing child interviews, approximately 15 out of 22 child advocacy centers in Michigan do. This has the effect of setting a precedent, leaving those that don’t conform labeled as outliers. As video becomes a routine tool, new challenges by defendants may indeed find support.
The question is not whether your state agencies are moving toward increased use of video, but when. Integrating digital recording into your workflow now enables you to set your own policies for how and when video will be used and disseminated…and maybe even set precedents that will be adopted by others.