Using A Forensic Psychologist In A Criminal Sexual Conduct Case
In cases involving false allegations of rape or child molestation, the use of an expert in forensic psychology can often make the difference between winning and losing.
Whether the accuser is an adult or a child, jurors in these types of cases often want an answer to the question, “Why would they lie?” The ability of the defense to answer that question for the jurors is critical to reaching a verdict of not guilty. Often, the answer to the question lies in the psychological issues surrounding the accuser.
Children who make false allegations of sexual abuse often have fallen victim to their suggestible nature.
It is not often that kids make false allegations of sexual abuse for malicious reasons. Frequently, the children making these types of claims have been influenced by family members, teachers, other adults, or their peers. Sometimes, the children have even been influenced by those completing an investigation, such as police officers, child protective services workers, and forensic interviewers at child assessment centers.
The ability of adults to influence children’s statements is well-known and understood by psychological experts. The State of Michigan has developed a Forensic Interviewing Protocol to provide an interview process that is designed to be as free as possible of the influence that can taint the statements of children being interviewed about possible abuse.
There are problems that arise in practice, however, that are important for jurors to understand. First, when a child is interviewed using the Forensic Interviewing Protocol, while the interviewer themselves may be able to remain neutral during the interview, they cannot go back and fix the prior influence of anyone who has spoken to the child previously. If, for example, an angry mother involved in a custody dispute has influenced (intentionally or unintentionally) a child to say that they were abused by their father, a forensic interviewer cannot undo that prior influence, even if they follow the protocol perfectly.
Second, in practice, interviewers rarely perfectly follow the protocol. Some implement the protocol better than others, but each interview generally has some flaws. Each flaw in the interview process has the potential to create a false allegation.
In order to help jurors in a jury trial gain an understanding of the potential for influence on a child’s statements, and a child’s suggestibility, it is often critical for the defense to present the testimony of a forensic psychologist who is an expert in forensic interviewing and in the forensic interview protocol. Their testimony can often help explain why a child in a particular case might have made a false claim of sexual abuse or molestation.
Adults who have made false rape allegations often suffer from mental illness.
In cases where there is an adult accuser, mental illness is often the culprit leading a person to make a false allegation. However, simply informing the jury that a person suffers from a mental illness is often not enough to convince a jury that their illness has led to a false allegation.
In cases where mental illness is at issue for the accuser, it is important to have an expert who is able to explain, in plain terms, why that particular mental illness can lead a person to make statements that are untruthful, to exaggerate, or to hallucinate. It is important to have an expert who is able to explain that these mental illnesses may even cause the accuser to believe that their false allegations are the truth.
A forensic psychologist is necessary to explain the “why.”
When there are issues with child suggestibility, forensic interviewing, or mental illness, the testimony of an expert in forensic psychology is necessary to explain to the jury why those things matter. During a jury trial, we can elicit the facts that support that a child was influenced, the ways that a forensic interviewer failed to follow the protocol, or a diagnosis of a mental illness, but a lay witness cannot explain why those things matter to the jury’s determination in the case.
The testimony of a forensic psychologist can help the jury take those facts that were elicited from the factual witnesses in the case, and put them into context so that they understand how those facts help them answer the question of “why would they lie?” that is so important to a jury’s determination of guilt or innocence.
If you have been charged with Criminal Sexual Conduct anywhere in the State of Michigan, Keeley Blanchard has extensive trial experience representing those accused of sexual assault and child molestation. Reach Keeley at Blanchard Law today.