If there was one single theme that leads to conviction, it would be the failure to defend properly because of a false sense of security on the part of the accused. When some event occurs that results in the assumption that there is no longer any danger, the defense becomes lax. A perfect example would be when a child, who has made an allegation, recants. To the accused, and often times even their attorney, there is no danger and the State has no case at that point, but nothing could be further from the truth. If a child recants before, or just after an arrest, that’s one thing, but when there has been an indictment and/or the child has testified at a preliminary hearing, more often than not, the prosecution will continue, even with the understanding that the child will testify at trial that they were never abused.
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The attitude of some defense attorneys can change quickly when the jury says, “We find the defendant guilty as charged.” Their reasoning was, “How could the jury possible find the defendant guilty when the child testified that nothing ever happened?” They simply were not prepared for the “expert” psychologist who testified that in their professional opinion, “The child was molested and is in denial.” “The child matches the profile or characteristics of a sexually molested child and the accused matches the profile of a child molester.” While these examples are certainly grounds for appeal and the higher court will probably overturn in favor of a new trial, the accused still sat in prison for years waiting.
When a child recants, the battle is not over. It is vital to show “why the child made the allegation, why they recanted and the fact that the recanting was truthful.” Based on this, it is vital that there is a psychological evaluation of any child who has made an allegation of sexual abuse and then recanted that allegation.
There is information in the science of psychology that will aid in evaluating the statements of the child by the finder-of-fact. This information can be used to evaluate both the original statement and the later retraction. This information is not known to the general public and is available to the finder-of-fact only through an expert witness.
The information obtained would enable the defense to present to the finder-of-fact an explanation for the original allegation without having to attempt to portray the child as a liar, perjurer, or deceiver. It would give the defense an opportunity to respond to the state’s position that the retraction is false.
A psychological examination of the child will not only provide information that will allow the defendant to have an adequate defense, but is crucial in terms of the welfare and best course for the child. If a child, for whatever reason, becomes involved in the development of a false allegation of sexual abuse, this is not a benign or innocuous experience for the child. If this child’s allegation that her mother abused her is false, the negative long-term consequences for the child if her retraction is not accepted by the finder-of-fact can be extremely serious. In one case, a teenage child ultimately committed suicide after her false allegation led to her father’s incarceration.
But if the original allegation was accurate, and the retraction false, it is also extremely important that the finder-of-fact recognize this in terms of the child’s welfare. Whatever trauma this child has experienced will be greatly compounded by a mistaken decision by the finder-of-fact.