History of Children as Witnesses in Court and the Evolution of Legal Procedures that Regulate Practice with Respect to Child Witnesses
Since time immemorial, children have been acting as witnesses in the court of law. Early records of the cases of criminal prosecutions in the mid16th century have evidenced that. Since children witnessing might be necessitated with respect to any class of criminal offence, studies have indicated that most of their testimonies relate to violent or sexual offences (Elrod & Ryder, 2011). In such crimes, the majority of victims were children. In 1736, Sir Mathew Hale said that the court proceedings which involved children as witnesses were related to buggery, rape, and witchcraft among other offences of children. During the 1980s, the amplification in neglect as well as abuse towards children has resulted in a more spread involvement of child witness both in criminal and juvenile proceedings. Currently, children testimonies are a common practice in various cases ranging from felonious killings and custody disputes. However, in cases concerning sexual abuse, they give uncorroborated testimony.
Legal procedures regulating the practice in relation to child witness have also evolved over time. For instance, the procedure used during the 1980s takes its root from the eighteenth century. Earlier, the evidence laws were somewhat immature. According to Motzkau (2007), during the 1700s the procedure of English common law was inquisitorial. However, nowadays, it has developed into the adversarial system. Legal procedures have also evolved from hearsay that was used by the judge to make judgments. Currently, there exists a stringent body of legal procedures whose purpose is to limit specific classes of evidence as well as hearsay. In additin to that, children are permitted to provide uncorroborated testimony especially in cases of sexual abuse. Other than that, the majority of states have implemented evidentiary codes allowing ‘leading’ children’s sex offender. In this case, the court allows a leading query to be asked but that must involve children below 10 years (California Evidence Code, Sec. 767 (b) (Elrod & Ryder, 2011).
Statutes that Aid Children as Witnesses and the Procedures by Which Children are Aided
In the present day, both the federal and state governments have enacted statutes that aid children as witnesses. To start with, 18 U.S.C § 3509 (c) (2) (2009) puts forth that children are assumed to be competent (Gardner & Anderson, 2013). The statute is generally applied to children who testify as witnesses or victims of a sexual offense. In order to aid the child, a competency hearing is conducted in order to determine whether he/she is able to understand and answer simple questions (Gardner & Anderson, 2013).
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The second statute is shield laws. According to them, children witnesses are allowed to give their testimonies behind a one-direction screen that usually occludes their sight of the defendant. It also involves providing testimonies in a one-direction video.
Other laws allow hearsay exceptions. In other words, therapists and pediatricians are allowed to retell what they were told by the children. They have been implemented to help child witnesses, especially those who are psychologically “engaged”, to give testimonies in an open courtyard.
How the Process Protects Children While Gathering Facts to Use as Evidence
Certainnly, children who are victims of various crimes go through dreadful experience. They are traumatized by the crime, continually grilled by lawyers, police officers as well as social workers; finally, the appearance in courts worsens the situation. In order to protect children from such an ordeal, such statutes as 18 U.S.C. §3509applied in federal cases allow live testimony through the employment of video-taped deposition or closed-circuit television (Gardner & Anderson, 2013). In fact, the closed-circuit testimony was permitted by the United States Supreme Court in Maryland v. Craig [497 U.S. 836, 842, 110 S. CT 3157, 3162] in 1990 (Gardner & Anderson, 2013). In some cases, the defendant may also be required to be physically absent if his presence threatens the child. However, the former is permitted to follow the testimony through a television monitor.
Besides, allowing a few persons in the courtroom helps the child feel at ease while giving testimony. Other procedures that contribute to this include limiting cross-examination, quick handling of cases as well as using limited interviews. This protects children at the same time reducing emotional distress.
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How the Laws Relate to Historical Reasons Why the U.S. Rules Are More Restrictive than Those Established by Other Countries
Similar to other laws in America, the rules aiding and protecting child witnesses are restrictive. Unlike other nations across the world, America has Constitutional protections aimed at safeguarding human rights. The due process clause in the Fourteenth and Fifth Amendment safeguards American citizens from unjust and unruly legal proceedings. It also requires defendants to be informed regarding the nature of accusation. This shows the need of restrictive nature of the US laws.
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