Your Child’s Testimony

Stuckle and Associates realize one of the most challenging questions for any criminal defense attorney is the decision whether to have a client testify. There are several factors that go into this critical decision. Often times the most compelling evidence to present for the falsely accused is their own testimony. Under the right circumstances it is advantageous to have a person testify on their own behalf. The state will calls the alleged victim to the witness stand to testify in front of the jury. Despite constitutional privileges against self-incrimination, the jury is human and wants to hear from the accused as well. The advantage gained from convincing testimony by a child must be weighed against the dangers inherent from an accused taking the stand. Stuckle and Associates know the accused juvenile who testifies must be willing to accept a significant amount of risk. Children face significant psychological pressure when testifying in their own behalf during the intense emotional drama of a trial.

The decision on invocation of the juvenile’s right to testify always belongs to the child. Case law has established that the client has the choice of whether to testify or not..[1] The privilege against self- incrimination has been extended to juveniles by the United States Supreme Court to prevent the accused from assisting the state in securing their own conviction. [2] The Supreme Court has recognized an accused person who testifies is at considerable risk of being psychological overwhelmed by the power of the state. This power presents a serious risk to the accused in adult trials, and becomes even more challenging when the target is a juvenile.

Stuckle and Associates know if their client testifies they will be subject to intense cross examination. During cross examination a client will directly face a professional prosecutor using all of their acquired skills in attempting to discredit the child. A seasoned prosecutor has significant trial experience to obtain the answers they are looking for. The state attorney’s will not tone down an aggressive style simply because the target witness is a child.

The testimony of a juvenile accused must be credible, direct, and compelling. The child must be able to accurately and forcefully tell their story. If the child has previously spoken to the authorities, the testimony at trial must be completely consistent on all points, regardless of how minor and inconsequential they seem. Additionally, the jury is going to be judging the testifying juvenile not just on what is being said, but on their verbal cues as well. A child who is not particularly good at expressing themselves or struggles when speaking with adults may not be a good candidate to testify.

Stuckle and Associates know the decision of placing a juvenile on the witness stand must take into consideration the specific abilities and life experiences of your child. Is the juvenile outgoing? Shy? Excessively nervous? What is the child’s experience with public speaking? Is the child well spoken? What is the child’s level of comprehension when it comes to their charges? These are just some of the questions Stuckle and Associates consider for each of their juvenile clients.

Whenever a juvenile client comes to meet with Stuckle and Associates, the analysis of whether the child will testify begins at the initial consultation and continues throughout our entire trial preparation. We take the time to talk to the child and determine their communication level and ability. We study how your child interacts with us, their parents and others involved in the process. Stuckle and Associates will discuss with the parents the child’s communication skills and whether they will make a positive impact with a jury. We continually assess your child’s nonverbal communication as well. It is important to determine if your child makes eye contact, is fidgeting, uses excessive “ah’s” and “um’s” and “like” and other conversational crutches. Through Stuckle and Associates interactions with and constant analysis we are able to better able to make a decision on what kind of impression the child would make in front of a jury.

[1] In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967).

[2] Id. At 47