In this issue

Div. 7 members are influencing legal decision making

Division members' research influences laws and policies that improve children's lives and promote justice.

By Gail S. Goodman

Research findings by Div. 7 members are influencing U.S. Supreme Court decisions, as well as decisions of lower courts, with profound effects on the “law of the land.” Here are three examples.

In the recent U.S. Supreme Court case of Ohio v. Darius Clark, a central issue was whether teachers could recount in court what a 3-year-old had told them about the injuries he had incurred. When the child arrived at preschool, the teachers noticed the child's injuries and asked “Who did this? What happened to you?” The teachers then repeated the child's answer in the criminal trial. The legal question was whether the child's statements were made for the purposes of prosecution, triggering the defendant's right to have the evidence excluded unless the child testified. Professor Thomas Lyon, working with a USC law alum and several students, helped write an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case. The brief cited research on children's understanding of the legal system, conducted by Karen Saywitz, PhD, and others, which suggested that children do not understand that their statements made to teachers will lead to prosecution. The Supreme Court cited the brief and the research in concluding that the evidence should not be excluded.

In the highly publicized Obergefell v. Hodges decision , the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state prohibitions on same sex marriage. Professor Michael Lamb, president-elect of Div. 7, testified in cases leading up to this decision about the effects of parents' sexual orientation on children. Moreover, his research was cited in the American Psychological Association's (APA) amicus brief in support of same sex marriage. Ten pages of APA's amicus brief were cited by Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority decision.

I recently testified in a hearing in Arizona concerning whether a defendant who is representing himself (pro per) should be permitted to cross-examine young child victim witnesses in a child sexual abuse criminal case. In numerous other countries, defendants are not permitted to cross-examine child victims in sex crime cases because it is considered too traumatic for the children. The alternative accepted by a number of U.S. courts is to have an attorney represent the defendant specifically for the purpose of cross-examination of the child victims. At the hearing, research findings were presented on children's short-and long-term reactions to testifying in criminal court; this research was conducted in collaboration with Sue Hobbs (Div. 7 Graduate Student Representative), Professor Jodi Quas (former Div. 7 member at large), and Professor Simona Ghetti (former Div. 7 newsletter editor), as well as several others.

It is clear that Div. 7 members are making a difference in legal decision making. We should be proud as a field that our research is influencing laws and policies that better children's lives and promote justice.