How to Interview a Child

Interviewing a Child for a Criminal Defense Case

In many of our cases, a child is a witness for the prosecution. 

Now under Washington law the defense is entitled to interview every prosecution witness before trial. So we get to interview even small children if they’re going to be witnesses for the prosecution. This is a very different sort of interview than interviewing an adult, and it requires a different set of skills. 

I’m going to give you one example. This is something I get to give lectures on to other lawyers. I will share with you one part of what I tell other lawyers in those lectures.

Let’s say the defense lawyer is interviewing a child, and we’ll assume it’s a girl, Sally.

Sally says, “Uncle Bob touches my private.” 

“How many times?,” the lawyer asks.

“I don’t know, it was a lot.”

The lawyer may then go on to say, “How did Uncle Bob do that?,” and Sally gives an account. 

Well, that is a bad way to go about it. Imagine then that, when trial comes, Sally gives a different account of how Uncle Bob did it. The defense lawyer will want to say to the jury, “Look, she’s inconsistent, she can’t keep her story straight.” But the prosecutor is going to say, “Remember, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, she said it happened many times. She told the defense lawyer about one time in his interview, and she’s told you in her testimony here in trial about a different time.”

To avoid that problem, the defense lawyer needs to conduct the interview episode by episode.

“OK, Sally, you’ve told me that Uncle Bod did this many times. Let’s go to the first time. Tell me about the first time. Start at the beginning. Go all the way through to the end. Don’t leave anything out.” 

And after Sally has done that, the defense lawyer then says, “How about the last time, Sally? Tell me about the last time.”

And then after that, the defense lawyers says, “Is there another time you remember well, Sally? Tell me about that time.” 

This is just one of the techniques we use to defend our clients successfully in child sex abuse cases.

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