Videotaping Children’s Testimony: An Empirical View

Increases in the number of reported incidents of child abuse and sexual molestation have resulted in more and younger children becoming courtroom participants. Some courts refuse to consider the special needs of the child in this adversarial environment. Relying on questionable precedent, these courts hold that the defendant’s right to directly confront the child, as well as strict compliance with evidentiary rules, overrides that child’s interest in freedom from embarrassment or psychological trauma. This Note focuses on pressures felt by the testifying child and the ways in which these pressures affect her testimony; it then proposes using videotaped testimony as a means of overcoming such pressures.

Part I reviews the psychological research undertaken in conjunction with this Note and concludes that, as compared to a courtroom setting, the quality and reliability of children’s testimony is significantly enhanced in a smaller, more intimate videotape environment. Based in part on such findings, this Note argues that using videotape technology to capture and portray in court the child witness’ testimony serves both to lessen emotional trauma to the child and to maintain a fair trial for the defendant. Part I concludes by calling for regular use of videotapes to present children’s testimony.

Part II focuses on the defendant’s sixth amendment right to confrontation as developed by the United States Supreme Court, other federal appellate courts, and state courts. An analysis of these decisions reveals that the right to face one’s accuser is far from absolute: the confrontation clause is peppered with exceptions based on policies which embrace the use of videotaped testimony in child sexual abuse cases. This Note concludes that when properly introduced, a child’s videotaped testimony will not infringe on the defendant’s right to confrontation.