In Michigan, when a child makes an allegation of criminal sexual conduct, law enforcement and Child Protective Services should set up a forensic interview for the alleged victim at a child advocacy center.
Child advocacy centers, including CARE House and Kids-TALK, are the physical centers where interviews take place.
During the interviews, the law allows for police, prosecutors, and Child Protective Services workers to attend the interview and watch it through one-way glass.
The child is typically in the room with only the interviewer. Parents are not permitted to watch the interview of their children. Also, defense attorneys, even the defense attorney for the accused, are not permitted to watch.
The forensic interviewers are supposed to follow the Michigan Forensic Interviewing Protocol that was drafted by the Governor’s Task Force with the Department of Health and Human Services.
The protocol, which is available online, was designed based on research about child suggestibility, the best way to ask children questions to yield reliable information, and calls for alternative hypothesis testing.
Alternative hypothesis testing checks if the allegations might have been made for some other reason than that the allegation happened.
For example if a young child says that dad inappropriately touched them, the forensic interviewer may ask questions about whether the dad was actually engaging in proper hygienic care, or whether the dad’s hand slipped by accident while tickling.
What if my child is asked to participate in a forensic interview?
Oftentimes, parents will call our office to ask if they need to take their child to a forensic interview. When law enforcement or Child Protective Services is investigating a claim involving a child, it is critical that parents cooperate and make necessary arrangements to bring their child to the interview.
Our office has had cases where children were removed from the parents prior to retaining us as attorneys because the parents failed to comply with the requests from police and Protective Services to take their child to an interview.
By failing to comply with the interviewing process, we have represented parents who have been criminally charged with tampering with evidence in a case, obstructing justice, and other crimes as a result of their noncompliance.
Further, CPS has taken action against parents by filing petitions to remove the children from the parents’ care and accusing them of failure to protect.
If law enforcement or Child Protective Services has asked you to bring your child to a child advocacy center for a forensic interview, it is very important that you get sound legal advice.
Further, many times lawyers will ask the attorneys in our office if failing to follow the forensic interviewing protocol could be a basis to have the interview evidence suppressed. In other words, they hope to have the interview of the child thrown out in the case.
Unless there are very extreme circumstances, failure to follow the forensic interviewing protocol is not grounds to have the interview excluded. It becomes an issue at trial to the extent that it goes to the weight of the evidence, and not the admissibility.
It is very important to have a lawyer who understands this issue in any criminal sexual conduct case. Too often, lawyers are on the wrong track and do not know how to properly attack or handle the evidence at trial.