Dr. Maggie Bruck's Affidavit
[The names of the children have been changed.]
I am a Professor in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD. I specialize in research in the fields of cognitive and developmental psychology. My particular research examines autobiographical memory with a special focus on the capabilities of young children. Currently, my major research focus is on the autobiographical memory and suggestibility of normally developing children and of children with developmental disabilities.
I have taught courses on these and other related subjects to undergraduate students, graduate students (Ph.D.), and psychiatry residents.
I have extensive experience reviewing my peers’ scientific contributions by serving as a member on: (i) national grant review panels in both Canada and the United States; (ii) scientific meeting review boards; (iii) advisory committees; and (iv) editorial boards of scientific peer-reviewed journals.
I have received almost two dozen research grants in both the United States and Canada during the last 20 years. I have published more than 70 articles in peer-reviewed publications, 20 book chapters, and I have co-authored with Stephen Ceci, Ph.D., Jeopardy in the Courtroom: A Scientific Analysis of Children's Testimony, American Psychological Association: Washington, D.C. (1995). We were awarded the William James Prize for excellence in psychology for Jeopardy in the Courtroom. Dr. Ceci and I also won the Robert Chin Memorial Award for the most outstanding article on child abuse in 1994 for our article “The Suggestibility of Child Witnesses: A Historical Review and Synthesis” (published in Psychological Bulletin, 113, 403-439, 1993). I have also presented more than 40 peer-reviewed papers at professional conferences and given more than 50 invited addresses. I have also presented material on children’s memory and suggestibility to professional audiences of judges, attorneys, and professionals who interview children in the United States, Canada, and Australia.
I have reviewed the materials of a number of actual cases of alleged sexual abuse of children, either in the capacity of an expert witness/consultant for the defense and for the prosecution and also as an author of a number of affidavits. In total, I have been a consultant or expert witness for approximately 50 cases in the past 12 years. My courtroom experience as an expert at both trials and hearings is listed in my Curriculum Vitae, which is attached to this document as Appendix A.
I have been asked by Gunther Fiek to provide an expert opinion on the following issues:
1. To assess the suggestiveness and interview bias in interviews two disclosing children and one non-disclosing child.
2. The necessity of having the jurors view these videotapes to understand how these children acted and how their interrogators acted during the interview.
3. The accuracy of the expert witnesses testimony about the suggestibility, reliability and accuracy of children’s testimony.
My opinion is based upon almost 20 years of scientific study on these issues. They have been admitted as testimony in appellate, criminal, civil, and family courts in the United States. Furthermore, as I review the facts of this case including an analysis of the interviews, it is clear that the scientific literature is highly pertinent to the analysis of the facts and the children’s testimony.
Section A: Basic Scientific Principles
I now outline general scientific principles that are pertinent to an analysis of the case
1. When children are questioned by a biased interviewer and the interview contains suggestive elements, there is a high degree of risk that these circumstances can taint the child’s report, rendering it unreliable.
Interview Bias. The suggestiveness (and thus the risk of eliciting false information) of an interview is indexed by how interviewer bias plays out during the target interview, as well as in all previous interviews. Interviewer bias characterizes interviewers who hold a priori beliefs about the occurrence of certain events and, as a result, conduct their interviews so as to obtain confirmatory evidence for these beliefs without considering plausible alternative hypotheses. When children provide such interviewers with inconsistent or bizarre evidence, it is either ignored or interpreted within the framework of the biased interviewer’s initial hypothesis. Biased interviewers often fail to investigate the accuracy of children’s claims outside of the interview itself. Biased interviewers’ beliefs are transmitted to the child through a range of suggestive interviewing techniques that are associated with the elicitation of false reports. Consequently, the child may come to inaccurately report the belief of the interviewer rather than the child's own experience. The concept of a biased interviewer is not limited to forensic interviewers but may also include therapists, teachers, and parents (see Bruck, Ceci, & Principe, 2006 for a review).
Suggestive Interviewing Techniques. Interviewer bias influences the entire architecture of interviews and is revealed through a variety of suggestive interviewing techniques that go beyond the use of leading questions. Suggestive techniques include the use of repeated specific questions (some of which may be leading) within and across interviews; repeated interviews focusing on the alleged event; implicit or explicit threats, bribes, and rewards (this includes telling the child that if they answer the questions, the interview will be over); stereotype induction (e.g., telling children the suspected perpetrator ‘‘does bad things’’); the use of anatomically detailed dolls; the presence of more than one adult in the interview; the use of peer pressure Although each suggestive technique is associated with error, the risk for false statements is greatly augmented when interviews contain a combination of suggestive techniques, which increase the salience of the interviewer’s bias (see Bruck, Ceci & Principe, 2006; Ceci & Bruck, 1995 for details and examples).
Of particular importance for the present case is the degree to which peers or use of peer pressure can taint children’s reports. The scientific literature clearly shows that children will indeed falsely report experiencing an event either because they have been told: “Your friends have told and now it’s your turn”; “Your friend said you were there also”. Children will also make a false report because they have overheard or talked to friends about a rumor or about an experience that only happened to their friend. These laboratory findings have also been documented with traumatic events. For example, Pynoos and Nader (1989) studied people's recollections of a sniper attack aimed at children on a school playground. Scores of children were pinned under gunfire, many were injured, and one child and a passerby were killed. Roughly, l0% of the student body was interviewed 6 to 16 weeks later. Some of these children were not at the school during the shooting had "memories." One girl initially said that she was at the school gate nearest the sniper when the shooting began when in fact she was half a block away. A boy, who had been away on vacation, said that he had been on his way to the school, had seen someone lying on the ground, had heard the shots, and then turned back. One assumes that children heard about the event from their peers who were present during the sniper attack and they incorporated these reports into their own memories.
2. The first interview with a child provides the most reliable testimony.
When children are interviewed over a period of time, the general rule is that the statements in the first interview are the most important for determining reliability. This is because, compared to later interviews, there is less chance for forgetting, and there is less time or opportunity for suggestive and other influences to taint children’s reports. Thus the children’s reports in the first rather than the second or the last interview provide the most reliable evidence.
In documenting the evolution of the children’s allegations, it is also important to determine if the child’s first statement is spontaneous, unprompted, and made in the absence of any previous suggestive elements, or if the child’s first statement is associated with previous or concurrent suggestive interviewing techniques. When children make spontaneous or relatively unprompted statements in forensic interviews, these are only reliable to the degree that there has been no previous interviewing or questioning. If children, for example, are suggestively questioned by their parents prior to the interview, then the statements in the forensic interview are unreliable. This is a stable finding of many studies in the scientific literature.
3. Suggestive interviewing techniques can result in false beliefs.
One of the effects of suggestive interviewing is that children may come to believe that they actually experienced the suggested event. Thus asking children to tell the truth and to tell only what happened to them and to promise to tell the truth can be fruitless (see Poole & Lindsay, 2001; Zaragoza et al., 2001) and will not de-taint their reports. Similarly, children do not monitor many aspects of interviews, specifically what another person suggested or said to them. Thus asking children whether or not Mommy told them to say something or whether or not Daddy told them bad things is not likely to result in accurate reports. Young children are generally incapable of accurately producing this information (see Roberts, 2002 for a review). Thus court-room cross examination of a child who has made allegations as a result of suggestive interviewing will not necessarily reveal what really happened. This is because the child thinks that they telling what really happened.
4. Children who make false allegations as a result of suggestive interviews are not lying.
Such children are simply trying to be compliant and to provide the interviewer with the information that is wanted. In this sense the child does not meet common definitions of lying that include conscious “deception” for “gain”. For these reasons, asking children if they know the difference between a lie and the truth and to promise to tell the truth does not prevent the negative effects of suggestibility. A number of studies have found that children’s performance on truth-lie tests has no association with the accuracy of their later responses during an interview about a past event.
5. Children who can differentiate reality from fantasy are still suggestible.
Although numerous studies have attempted to find an association between fantasy and suggestibility, no significant relationship has been found. Certainly by the age of 6 and 7 most children can differentiate reality from fantasy, and yet the scientific literature shows that suggestibility effects predominate through out the life span.
6. Children’s False Reports are Credible.
Some professionals state that they can detect suggestion because children simply parrot the words of their investigators. However, evidence from the past decade, provides no support for this assertion. First, children's false reports are not simply reflections or monosyllabic responses to leading questions. Under some conditions, their answers go well beyond the suggestion and incorporate additional non-suggested details and emotions (e.g., Bruck, Ceci, Francouer & Barr, 1995; Bruck, Ceci & Hembrooke, 2002). In fact, children's narratives of the false events contain more embellishments (including descriptive and emotional terms) and details than their narratives of the true events. False narratives often contain more spontaneous statements than the true narratives. Although for the most part, the details in false stories are realistic, they often contain more bizarre details than true narratives (Bruck, Ceci & Hembrooke, 2002).
In addition, subjective ratings of children's reports after suggestive interviewing reveals that these children appear highly credible to trained professionals in the fields of child development, mental health, and forensics (e.g., Leichtman & Ceci, 1995; Ceci et al., 1994a, 1994b); these professionals cannot reliably discriminate between children whose reports are accurate from those whose reports are inaccurate as the result of suggestive interviewing techniques. The children who provided the false reports spoke sincerely and provided accounts laden with emotion and perceptual details and used body language consistent with their reports.
To summarize, there are no scientifically acceptable markers for judging truthfulness of children’s statements that have emerged in suggestive contexts. These findings show that reliability and credibility are orthogonal dimensions. Accordingly, one cannot use credibility to judge reliability (e.g., She looks so believable that she could not have been coached).
Section B: Application of Scientific Literature to the Present Case
1. The Quality (Suggestiveness) of the Interviews
I was given four interviews to examine (Abner King; 2 with Alan Sherman; Joe Green). Two of the children (Abner and Joe) reported that the defendant had touched them. Alan denied any wrong doing.
Regardless of what the children said, the interviews had a number of suggestive techniques and there is interviewer bias. Specifically, Abner and Joe were repeatedly asked the same questions; they were asked leading questions. Furthermore, both of these children report similar events: that the defendant touched them one time; over their clothes; and they dated the timing of that incident after it their courses had stopped. Clearly Abner’s report must be false and probably the same for Joe’s but this did not seem to have been investigated or taken into account. Furthermore, the fact that both children report being touched only one time over their clothes raises many concerns of what they are talking about. The most obvious hypotheses are: there was no sexual intent or no touching and if there was touching it had to do with making sure the children’s uniforms were proper. It is also impossible to determine the reliability of the reports without any knowledge of how these children were questioned previously by their parents and other adults and what contacts and interactions they had with their peers. Joe’s interview indicates that allegations of molestation were kept open when he states that after he told his parents they told the rest of his family (TT 1943).
The two interviews of Alan Sherman are important for many reasons. First they highlight how non-responsive children were interviewed. In this case, Alan was interviewed by two different interviewers on the same day. The interviews were repetitive which by itself is concerning because this could lead to false allegations. Specifically Monica Merrifield asks Alan repeated questions about bad touching; he repeatedly denies that he was touched at taekwondo. Then a second interviewer (Finlayson) is sent in to repeat the process, but she goes even further by telling him that his friend Campbell had been interviewed and that Campbell said he had been touched and so had Alan. Alan emphatically denied these claims and still the interviewer continued to pressure him.
2. Evidence to Present to the Jury
The defense should have shown the videos of Alan and Abner to the jury in order to show how suggestive the interviews were and how they deviated from acceptable practices and guidelines. Also it is important that the jury know that there were children who did deny, who gave inaccurate testimony, and who contradicted the testimony of other children who did make allegations. The failure of the interviewers and of the investigators to take these facts into account highlights their strong belief and bias that the children were abused and that they systematically ignored exculpatory evidence.
Not showing the videos of the children to the jury gives the false impression that all children spontaneously disclosed abuse and that this was corroborated by their classmates.
3. The State’s Expert Witnesses Mislead the Jury about the Scientific Evidence that is pertinent to this case and that was available in 2000.
I have read portions of the experts’ testimony and declare that they have misrepresented what is known about the accuracy and suggestibility of children’s reports. For example,
Finlayson testified that most children are not suggestible and that their reports cannot be tainted through peer contact. Clearly this witness had not read the literature. It is true that most children may not be suggestible if they are asked one or two misleading questions in another wise neutral interview. But a large proportion of children would come to make false claims if they were interviewed in the same manner and in the same circumstances (peer pressure, peer interaction, parent interviews, community involvement) that occurred in this case.
Ginger Rogers claim that it is rare for children to develop a false belief after a short 15 minute interview is also not entirely accurate. But more importantly, for the purpose of the present case, this is not what happened to the children. There were many interviews which might have resulted in false beliefs.
Ms. Robins testimony that the “truth-lie” section of the interview protected children from using fantasy. As discussed above, children do not use fantasy when suggestively interviewed and truth-lie discussions do not affect the accuracy of children’s interview reports.
Section 3: Summary and Conclusions
The evolution of the children’s allegations in this case can only be understood in terms of the community and parental response to the initial allegations. Children who did make allegations did not do so for the first time in the forensic interviews and for this reason the interviews themselves are not valuable for all they show is the effects of parents’ previous (suggestive) questioning of the children. Despite the fact that many of the children seemed to readily tell of bad touching, the interviews that I reviewed at least show that the interviews were structured to focus on “bad touching”, to include repeated questions and leading questions and to exclude any challenge to the child’s reports. Children were never asked in the interviews about talks with parents and friends previous to the interview. They were never directly asked if they remember being touched or it they remember someone telling them about being touched. Rather, they were questioned until the right amount of evidence was elicited. The example of Alan Sherman’s interview showed how these interviewers proceeded when children were not forthcoming. In general none of these interviews met traditional criteria for “unbiased, non-suggestive interviews”.
The jury was not provided with the necessary details or with the wrong details to properly evaluate the facts of the case. The experts for the State provided wrong and misguided information on interviewing techniques and the suggestibility of children. Further, they should have been shown the videos of children who did not testify so that they could appreciate the amount of poor interviewing, the number of children who denied touched, failed to corroborate other children’s testimony, and who gave inaccurate testimony.