When juries “hear” children testify: The effect of eyewitness age and speech style on jurors’ perceptions of testimony.

Nigro, G. N., Buckley, M A., Hill, D. E., & Nelson, J. (1989). When juries “hear” children testify: The effect of eyewitness age and speech style on jurors’ perceptions of testimony. In S. J. Ceci, D. F. Ross, & M. P. Toglia (Eds.), Perspectives on children’s testimony (pp. 57-70). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Although eyewitnesses appear in few trials (Kalven & Zeisel, 1966), juries decide only a fraction of these (Cole, 1975), and child witnesses are rarer still (Ross, Miller, & Moran, 1987), jurors’ reactions to children’s testimony deserve study for several reasons. One reason is the role played by the anticipated reaction of a jury at different stages of the criminal justice process (Stasser, Kerr, & Bray, 1982). As Stasser et al. (1982) point out, jurors’ probable reactions figure in decisions to arrest, indict, and enter into plea bargaining. What are jurors’ probable reactions to children’s testimony? Although it has been widely assumed that jurors would not believe a child (Yarmey & Jones, 1983), recent evidence suggests that this assumption is too simplistic. Another reason to study jurors’ reactions to children’s testimony is the growing number of cases in which a child is the key witness (Goodman, Golding, Helgeson, Haith, & Michelli, 1987). As prosecutors face more cases in which key testimony is provided by a child, and as legislatures change laws to accommodate the young witness, the need for systematic information about jurors’ perceptions grows. Most juries acquitted; fewer acquittals when child eyewitness also had powerful speech style. Leniency effect observed in postdeliberation guilt ratings. Child eyewitness with powerful speech style seen as most credible; child with powerless speech style seen as least credible (compared with adult eyewitnesses).

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