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Ruling Limits Testimony In Child Abuse Cases

Overturning a child abuse conviction, the Supreme Court Tuesday made it harder for prosecutors to bring witnesses before a jury to testify about what the ostensible victim told them about the events in question.

The court ruled, 5 to 4, that if the prosecution seeks to use the witnesses’ testimony to counter evidence that the victim had a reason to lie, it can use only those statements made before the motive to lie arose.

In this case, six witnesses had testified for the prosecution against a man accused of abusing his 4-year-old daughter. At the time of the alleged abuse, the man and his former wife were in a custody dispute, and the defense suggested that the child’s desire to remain with her mother gave her a reason to fabricate a tale of abuse. The court ruled that the witnesses should not have been allowed to testify because the child would have had a motive to lie by the time the conversations to which they testified took place.

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