Get a Guardian Litem Appointed
Video Transcribed: How to introduce a child’s statements made to you into court? My name is Brian L. Jackson. I am an Oklahoma dad’s lawyer with dads.law, where fathers are not disposable and I want to talk to you a little bit about statements made by minor children, particularly young children, and one, how they can be brought into court, and two, what you need to do to gear up to present that kind of evidence. There are a couple of specialized rules that apply to children testifying in open court.
Now I can tell you from experience that family court judges really don’t want to put a child, particularly not a small child, on the stand to testify in a family matter against one of their parents. From a starting point, if you tried to do that, you’re probably going to lose that argument and piss the judge off.
But what if the child made a disclosure to you about something that may or may not have happened and it’s, says, an emergency situation and something’s going to have to be done and all you’ve got is that kid’s statement. Well, what do you do?
Well, there are a few ways to skin the cat. If you’re talking about a real serious allegation, a forensic interview is an option. You will definitely want to get a guardian litem appointed, and you should be able to have the guardian ad litem testify as to what the child might have told them. It could still be subject to a hearsay objection, but the guardian ad litem can still share their opinion with the court, same with the forensic interview or their subject. They might be subject to a hearsay objection, but they can still share their opinion with the court.
Other options are you can ask the court to interview the child on camera. Now, what that means is basically that the judge will talk to the child in chambers, that is in the judge’s office, and will ask them questions themself.
Sometimes attorneys are allowed to be present for these in cameras, many times they’re not because it creates more pressure on the child. Typically the parents will not be present. Sometimes that’s allowed. There are a few ways you can try to get those statements in.
Also, there’s the option of developing other corroborating evidence depending on the nature of the allegation. There are some attorneys who will argue a rule under title 12, called the child hearsay exception, and try to get an adult witness who heard what the child said to testify to that. It is my opinion that the rule doesn’t apply because that particular section actually deals with statements being used either in criminal court or in deprived court.
Now, the deprived court is child welfare proceedings. Basically, if the state has gotten involved and is trying to take the child away, or is otherwise asserting its parent’s patriae authority because the parents just aren’t doing it, they’re unfit.
But it’s my opinion that would not apply in a family case because the statute’s very specific about what it does apply. Now, there are other hearsay exceptions that could potentially come into play such as present sense exceptions if they divulge something in the course of like a medical examination that might be admissible and there are some others as well.
If the declarant just flat out isn’t available, then you may be able to get the statement in that way and then there’s also things like alternate means of testimony and there’s a whole bunch of rules that go with that, like testimony on a closed-circuit camera for example. So there are ways to get these statements in.
There are also ways to keep these statements out. Again, if somebody just shows up to court, “Oh, I’m just going to testify to what my kid told me.” Mm, probably not. A judge shouldn’t let that in and if the proper objections are raised, it will not be allowed in. The party trying to proffer that testimony is going to have to find another way to get it done and that’s a good thing.
One thing that’s an important thing to understand about these types of situations is you do have a confrontation, you have a right to cross-examine witnesses in these cases. If you are being accused, even if it’s by your own kid, and I know it’s kind of an icky thing to think about it, you don’t want somebody like me standing there or ripping into your kid on a cross, but obviously too, if they’ve been coached or if they’re just being untruthful, you want to make sure the court knows that. That’s where that confrontation becomes very important.
If you have questions about this, if you’re dealing with a serious allegation, you need a good lawyer, and one place you can go and find a good lawyer is at dads.law, where fathers are not disposable.