Expert on Child Eyewitness Memory Shines New Light on Carter-Bibbs Trial

By Samantha Kancigor

Crucial evidence against the accusation of child molestation by Antonio Carter Bibbs arose  during the trial session on Wednesday, June 12. Lead defense attorney Eric Quandt called expert witness Dr. Julie Buck to the stand to provide expertise and evidence on the topic of the accuracy of child eyewitness memory. Her testimony helped provide the defense with evidence that the victim might be misremembering or using a false memory when describing the allegations against Mr. Carter-Bibbs. Due to her young age and general developmental immaturity, there is a chance that the accusations made did not actually happen to her which can affect the verdict of the case.

Dr. Julie Buck testified that she has a Bachelors, Masters, and PhD in Psychology and has specialized in child witness memory for over twenty years. She also said that she has authored 10 peer-reviewed publications to date, most regarding child witness memory. Dr. Buck is considered an expert in the field of child eyewitness testimony and was able to shed some light on the realities behind some of the accusations made against Mr. Carter-Bibbs.

She began by asserting that the autobiographical memory of a child does not function like a camera and that memory, in general, is incredibly malleable and fluid. Often times, one can subconsciously fill in gaps in the memory to make it more coherent but, subsequently, less accurate. It is easy for both adults and children to add information to the memory that may not have occurred because of inevitable memory deficits. While these bits of information may seem infallible to the person they can, indeed, be contrived.

When questioned by Quandt, Dr. Buck claimed that children can certainly be accurate witnesses. While they are still young and developing, they can still report some correct information about an event. She also asserted that there are many factors that lead to false reports- one being the manner in which a child is questioned. This can have a lasting effect on the child’s perception and response. Biases, context, tone, and other non-verbal cues can lead a child to fabricate part of or an entire story.

Dr. Buck introduced the terms ‘source monitoring’ and ‘source monitoring error’ to the dialogue this morning in claiming that the former is the ability to remember the source(s) of a memory and the latter is the error that can occur in doing so. She testified that one initial error could skew the entire memory and that children have more difficulty in recalling details than adults do. Therefore, errors can be very common. Simple questions such as “Where did you hear that?” or “Who said that” can get false responses because children tend to make something up instead of admitting that they do not know as claimed by Dr. Buck.

Another important assertion that Dr. Buck made this morning was that children can mimic their parents. Children are very observant and curious and, often times, look to their parents or guardians as role models. Later on in today’s session, mother, Patricia Kenard, said that her daughter (the alleged victim), has mimicked her in different occurrences. She claimed that her daughter had pretended to be pregnant when Kenard was pregnant by putting a ball under her shirt. In other instances, the daughter has used some words of profanity due to the fact that such words are often used in the house. According to Dr. Buck’s testimony, this kind of behavior is normal for young children.

Dr. Buck continued to discuss the notion of interviewer bias and how it might affect the testimony of a young child. She said that preconceived biases as well as motives and agendas can influence the responses of the child. She believes that the way a question is phrased and the tone it is asked in can inadvertently prime the child’s response. The expert claims that the best way to get the most accurate response from a child as young as four (as the victim is) is to ask open ended questions, to not add any new information not presented by the child, and to not suggest anything. Ultimately, the child should do the majority of the talking with little coaching from the interviewer so that bias and suggestibility are limited and neutrality and accuracy are maximized.

Later on during cross examination, Dr. Buck revealed that interviewers are able to remember about 25% of the questions they asked the child, thus leaving a large margin for error. This was given to show that there might be information missing that was uncovered during the initial “interview” the grandmother had with the victim. When trying to recall what questions were asked and the phrasing of them, many details might be left out or fabricated.

The topic of the legitimacy of eyewitness testimony is an incredibly contentious topic right now. Dr. Buck was able to shed some light on the logistics when discussing eyewitness testimony of children as it greatly differs from that of adults. Ultimately, Dr. Julie Buck was able to show the court that while children can accurately report a real memory, there is a large margin error that can be easily exasperated by a plethora of factors that can sometimes be difficult to account for.

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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