Behavioral Sciences & the Law

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Volume 34 Issue 1 (January/February 2016), Pages 1-245

Statements from Youth in Legal Contexts: Effects of Consistency, Legal Role, and Age (pages 139-159)

Jurors are often asked to evaluate statements provided by young victims, witnesses, and suspects. When, over time, youths’ statements contain inconsistent information or recantations of prior statements, jurors face a difficult task in evaluating the validity of the initial claim. The underlying reasons for inconsistencies and recantation of young people's statements, particularly in cases of child sexual abuse, have been debated. Of primary interest here is whether inconsistencies (e.g., recantation) are evaluated differently by fact finders depending on the youth's age and role in a legal case. The current study examined effects of consistency of juvenile statements, legal role, and age on perceptions of testimony in a child sexual abuse investigation. Participants (N = 693) read vignettes describing child sexual abuse in which consistency of a follow‐up statement (consistent, inconsistent, recanted), legal role (victim, witness, suspect), and age (10 years, 16 years) of the juvenile providing testimony were manipulated. The results revealed that judgments of initial statement quality, blameworthiness, and guilt were dependent on the consistency of follow‐up statements and on the interactive effects of a juvenile's legal role and age. The current study has theoretical implications for understanding juror decision‐making and practical implications for legal professionals and fact finders evaluating youths’ statements. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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