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Attorneys' Questions and Children's Productivity in Child Sexual Abuse Criminal Trials

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We investigated the links between questions child witnesses are asked in court, children's answers, and case outcome. Samples of acquittals and convictions were matched on child age, victim-defendant relationship, and allegation count and severity. Transcripts were coded for question types, including a previously under-examined type of potentially suggestive question, declarative questions. Children's productivity was conceptualized in a novel way by separating new from repeated content and by adjusting the definition based on the linguistic demands of the questions. Attorneys frequently used declarative questions, and disconcertingly, attorneys who used these and other suggestive questions more frequently were more likely to win their case. Open-ended and closed-ended questions elicited similar levels of productivity from children, and both elicited more productivity compared with suggestive questions. Results highlight how conceptualization of questions and answers can influence conclusions, and demonstrate the important real-world implications of attorney questioning strategies on legal cases with child witnesses.

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