Expert Testimony: Mental Health Professionals in Court Viola Vaughan-Eden, PhD, LCSW IMPROVING INVESTIGATION & PROSECUTION OF CHILD ABUSE October 21, 2009
Federal Rule of Evidence 702 Expert Witness Someone who by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education will assist the trier of fact (a judge or jury) to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue
JUST BECAUSE A JUDGE RULES YOU ARE AN EXPERT, HAVING A FEW CONTINUING EDUCATION HOURS DOESN’T MAKE YOU AN EXPERT
FEAR is a GOOD THING
Be Prepared • Be Proactive • Be Professional
PREPARE • Know Why You Were Summoned • Know the Question Before the Court • Thoroughly Review Case Material • Know the Current Research Literature • Attend Child Abuse Specific Trainings
SUBPOENAS • Witness Subpoena • Records Subpoena Subpoena Duces Tecum
Why have I been summoned? What do they think I know that could help their case?
REVIEW • Thoroughly review all records • Don’t rely on your memory • Review reports and letters word by word • Timeline of your involvement • Be able to explain your relevance • Be able to explain what you relied on
SIMPLE THINGSARE OFTEN OVERLOOKED • Know how many times you met with the child and the dates • Know who was present • Know who brought the child • Explain why you met with the child and where if it was a different location • Know how many times other professionals met with the child and their conclusions
RESEARCH • Know the leading authorities • Join recognized child abuse organizations • Know the current professional literature • Read peer-reviewed journal articles • Read books published by reputable sources • Attend national conferences & trainings
“Knowledge of the rules of evidence and applicable case law is not enough to succeed with the challenging litigation” of cases of interpersonal violence. “…you must possess a thorough grounding in the pertinent medical and psychological literatures.” Myers, 2005, p xxxiii
EIGHT COMMON MYTHS ABOUT CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE Myth 1. Normal-appearing, well educated, middle-class people don't molest children. Myth 2. People are too quick to believe an abuser is guilty, even if there is no supporting evidence. Myth 3. Child molesters molest indiscriminately.
MYTHS ABOUT CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE Myth 4. Children who are being abused would immediately tell their parents. Myth 5. Children who are being abused will show physical evidence of abuse. Myth 6. Hundreds of innocent men and women have been falsely accused and sent to prison for molesting children.
MYTHS ABOUT CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE Myth 7. If asked about abuse, children tend to exaggerate and are prone to making false accusations. Myth 8. By using repeated interviews, therapists or police can easily implant false memories and cause false accusations among children of any age. The Leadership Council
Myths That Place Children At Risk During Custody Litigation Myth 1. Allegations of sexual abuse are common during custody disputes and the vast majority of allegations are false, unfounded or unsubstantiated. Myth 2: A history of battering has nothing to do with child abuse. Myth 3: Custody transfers to abusive parents are rare.
Myths That Place Children At Risk During Custody Litigation Myth 4: Fit mothers do not lose custody. Myth 5: Parental alienation syndrome is a common, well-documented phenomenon. Myth 6: Children are more likely to be abused in the care of a woman than a man. Dallam. S. J., & Silberg, J. L. (Jan/Feb 2006). Myths that place children at risk during custody disputes. Sexual Assault Report, 9(3), 33-47.
PROACTIVE • Do Everything Necessary to be Prepared • Get Releases of Information • Contact Attorneys • Contact Collateral Sources
ATTORNEYS • Don’t wait for them to call you • Clarify your role • Clarify expectations of your testimony • Reconfirm date and time
CONSULTATION Consult with other professionals • Guardians ad litem • Social Workers • Law Enforcement • Teachers • Therapists • Medical Doctors
PROFESSIONAL • Demeanor Calm, Sincere, and Courteous Tone • Attire Appropriate and Businesslike • Credible Honest, Humble, and Understandable Language • Punctual Arrive at least 30 minutes early, Patience • Ethical Truthful, Objective, and Knowledgeable
The expert witness must not only educate the jurors, but convince them that he or she should be trusted. Stern, 1997, p. 25
ON THE STAND • Be Professional • Have an updated copy of your resume or curriculum vitae and know what it says • Answer the Question Asked • Ask for Clarification • Follow the Lead of the Attorney • Respect the Judge’s Rulings • Look at the Judge and/or Jury
Ask to see Documents • Things are often taken out of Context • Don’t Exaggerate • Don’t Underestimate Attorneys • Don’t take notes on the stand unless you plan to turn them over
Be Honest Before and During Your Testimony About What You Know and What You are Qualified to Talk About
Don’t Discuss Your Testimony Potential or Otherwise with Anyone Except Privately with the Attorneys
SAFETY If you feel at risk, leave with others or ask for an escort
DEBRIEF • Get feedback from Attorneys and Other Professionals • Discuss Ways To Improve • Review the Transcript
SUGGESTED READING Vaughan-Eden, V. (2008, Summer/Fall). Be prepared, be proactive, and be professional: Key points to testifying in child abuse cases. APSAC Advisor, 20, 23-26.
Viola Vaughan-Eden, PhD, LCSW Child and Family Resources 610 Thimble Shoals Blvd Suite 301 D Newport News, VA 23606 757-303-6799 cell www.violavaughaneden.com