Children's Allegations of Sexual Abuse in Criminal Trials: Assessing Defense Attacks on Credibility and Identifying Effective Prosecution Methods, Maricopa County, Arizona, 2005-2015

Version
v0
Resource Type
Dataset : administrative records data
Creator
  • Stolzenberg, Stacia
Other Title
  • Archival Version (Subtitle)
Publication Date
2020-11-30
Publication Place
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Publisher
  • Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research
Funding Reference
  • United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice
Language
English
Free Keywords
Schema: ICPSR
child abuse; criminal courts; criminal justice system; prosecution; sexual abuse; trials
Description
  • Abstract

    Child maltreatment is widely recognized as a severe crisis in the United States (Norman, Byambaa, Butchart, Scott, & Vos, 2012), incurring costs of $124 billion annually (Fang, Brown, Florence, & Mercy, 2012). Accordingly, children in the United States are frequently called to testify in criminal proceedings about their allegations (Hamblen & Levine, 1997). To effectively develop procedures that better distinguish true from false allegations, one must be equally concerned about false convictions and false acquittals; assessing best practices that minimize children's vulnerabilities and maximize competencies. To do so, the justice system must assess whether children are credible. As such, is necessary for the prosecutor to establish children's credibility, particularly by preempting or rebuffing concerns from the defense. Further, it is necessary for the defense to evaluate whether children's allegations are honest or suggestively influenced, productive, consistent and plausible. However, it is undetermined how to do this effectively. The purpose of the present investigation is to assess how children's credibility is established and questioned in courtroom investigations of sexual abuse allegations, with a particular focus on how children respond. It is expected that: 1) defense attorneys will use likely use subtle means to attack children's honesty and suggestibility, whereas prosecutors will ask overtly about such topics, 2) children will exhibit productivity differences depending on the questioner, 3) defense attorneys will frequently ask children specific questions about prior inconsistencies, 4) prosecutors will infrequently establish the plausibility of abuse, 5) prosecutors will infrequently preempt defense attorneys' concerns of credibility, and will only sometimes rebuff their attacks during re-direct examination, 6) both prosecutors and defense attorneys may ask developmentally inappropriate questions, and that 7) case characteristics will be related to questioning patterns. The proposed investigation will: develop an understanding of current prosecution and defense methods in cases involving allegations of child sexual abuse, contribute to prosecutors' abilities to effectively try such cases, providing concrete recommendations for defense attorneys when assessing children's credibility, and facilitate better decision making in cases of alleged child sexual abuse.
  • Abstract

    The purpose of the study is to assess how children's credibility is established and questioned in courtroom investigations of sexual abuse allegations, with a particular focus on how children respond.
  • Methods

    All ethics protocols were approved by Arizona State University's Institutional Review Board. Working with the Maricopa County Attorneys' Office, we obtained information on all victims who testified in cases of alleged child sexual abuse in Maricopa County from January of 2005 to December, 2015 (N = 398 victims across 252 cases). Cases were eligible if they involved Stolzenberg, Children's Allegations of Sexual Abuse in Criminal Trials at least a single charge of: Sexual Conduct with a Minor (A.R.S. 13-1405), Child Molestation (A.R. S. 13-1410), or Sex Abuse (A. R. S. 13-1404). The study team contacted and paid court reporters to share transcripts of completed cases; 73 court reporters were contacted and 47 responded (64% response rate). The study team received 214 complete victim's testimonies across 142 cases (some cases included multiple victims); the remaining court reporters were non-responsive. Of these 214 testimonies, 134 were minors at testimony, whereas the remaining transcripts involved young adults testifying about alleged victimization during their childhood. For the purposes of the project, the study team examined the 134 testimonies involving minors.
  • Methods

    The variables include demographics about the victim and perpetrator, descriptions regarding the severity of the allegations, relationship between victim and perpetrator, description of questions asked in court, description of victim's response, as well as outcome of the case.
  • Methods

    Presence of Common Scales: None.
  • Methods

    Response Rates: Not applicable.
  • Abstract

    Datasets:

    • DS1: Dataset
Temporal Coverage
  • Time period: 2005-01-01--2015-12-31
  • 2005-01-01 / 2015-12-31
  • Collection date: 2017
Geographic Coverage
  • Arizona
Sampled Universe
134 minors (5 to 17 years old) testifying about alleged child sexual abuse in criminal trials. Smallest Geographic Unit: None
Sampling
Collecting cases prosecuted between 2005 and 2015 in Maricopa County, Arizona, the study team examined transcripts of 134 minors (5 to 17 year old) testifying about alleged child sexual abuse in criminal trials.
Note
Funding institution(s): United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice (2016-R2-CX-0050).
Availability
Delivery
One or more files in this study are not available for download due to special restrictions; consult the study documentation to learn more on how to obtain the data.
Alternative Identifiers
  • 37465 (Type: ICPSR Study Number)
Relations
  • Is previous version of
    DOI: 10.3886/ICPSR37465.v1

Update Metadata: 2020-11-30 | Issue Number: 2 | Registration Date: 2020-11-30