Juror Perceptions of Child Witnesses with Autism: The Role of Diagnosis Disclosure and Presence of an Accompanying Person

Date
2023
Authors
Dickensheets, Tori
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Volume Title
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Abstract

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are overrepresented in the legal system as victims and witnesses of crimes. The present study examined the effects of disclosing a child witness's diagnosis of ASD and the presence of an accompanying person (i.e., support person versus registered intermediary) on jurors' perceptions of a child witness's credibility and defendant's guilt regarding a child sexual abuse case. Accompanying persons are commonly used to aid child witnesses during cross-examination and can include a support person who provides emotional support or a registered intermediary who provides communication support by intervening when attorney questions are inappropriate for the witness's communicative abilities. Two hundred and thirty-one jury eligible adults read transcripts involving the direct and cross-examination of a 12-year-old female alleging sexual abuse by her father. All transcripts included descriptions of common behaviors in ASD (e.g., arm flapping). Participants were randomly assigned to one of six conditions varying in disclosure status (ASD disclosed versus ASD not disclosed) and accompanying person presence (no accompanying person, support person, registered intermediary). Disclosing a diagnosis of ASD or the presence of an accompanying person did not result in significant credibility or defendant guilt rating differences. However, the child's credibility was perceived by participants as above average, and the defendant was perceived as more guilty than innocent across all conditions.

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Keywords
Juror perceptions, Child witnesses, Autism, Diagnosis disclosure
Citation
Department
Psychology