Complex questions asked by defense lawyers linked to convictions in child abuse trials

Jul 17, 2008

Defendants in child abuse cases are more likely to be convicted if their defense lawyer uses complicated language when interrogating young victims according to new research out of the University of Toronto and the University of Southern California.

The National Institute of Health funded research project conducted by Angela Evans, a PhD candidate, Kang Lee, a professor at the University of Toronto and Thomas Lyon, a professor at the University of Southern California, involved an examination of 223 transcripts from felony child sexual abuse cases in the U.S.

"We looked at whether defense lawyers would ask children unnecessarily complicated questions and whether their complex questions would lead to the designed effect – to make the witness look incompetent thus influencing the jury to decide in their client's favour," said Evans. "To our surprise, defense lawyers who use more complex questioning were 2.16 times more likely to produce a guilty verdict for their client than those who use less complex questions."

An automated linguistic analysis program called Connexor Functional Dependency Grammar (FDG) parser was used to analyze the child witness's testimonies and the attorneys' statements. Such linguistic software programs have been used in the past to determine the author of text such as Shakespeare plays written under a secrete pen name. This is the first time such a linguistic program has been used in a legal context.

"It's also interesting to note that the complexity of questions asked by the prosecution was not significantly related to the trial outcome," added Evans.

Source: University of Toronto

Explore further: Interactivity tools can boost persuasiveness of websites

Related Stories

The microscopic topography of ink on paper

2 hours ago

A team of Finnish scientists has found a new way to examine the ancient art of putting ink to paper in unprecedented 3-D detail. The technique could improve scientists' understanding of how ink sticks to ...

Harvesting energy from electromagnetic waves

2 hours ago

For our modern, technologically-advanced society, in which technology has become the solution to a myriad of challenges, energy is critical not only for growth but also, more importantly, survival. The sun ...

Scientists hold breath for comet lander to wake

3 hours ago

Europe's comet lander Philae has remained obstinately silent since a new bid was launched to communicate with it, mission chiefs said Tuesday, but chances for contact were improving daily.

Recommended for you

Music: Will climate change give us the blues?

Apr 14, 2015

Climate change is predicted to intrude into almost every area of life—from where we live, to what we eat and whom we war with. Now music can be added to the list.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

kgbdrop
1 / 5 (1) Jul 18, 2008
"written under a _secrete_ pen name"

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.