Crayons in the Courtroom: Jurors’ Beliefs about Children’s Drawings and their Impact on Child Witness Credibility
In cases of child maltreatment, the child is often the sole eyewitness to the event. This means it is important that a child’s testimony of the event is detailed, specific, and accurate (Salmon et al., 2012). To help elicit these testimonies, interviewers may ask children to “draw what happened to them”. These drawings then become an evidential exhibit presented to jury members in court (Cohen-Liebman, 2013). The presentation of drawings alongside a child’s testimony may impact how competent and trustworthy a child witness is perceived to be (Danby et al., 2021). Across two studies, the current research explored the beliefs that jury members hold about children’s drawings and the impact that these beliefs may have on the evaluation of a child’s testimony. Within the first study, potential jurors (N=503) completed an online survey exploring their beliefs about the use of drawings within forensic settings. Drawings were generally thought to be highly beneficial and allow access into a child’s cognitive world; however, participants also identified some risks associated with having children draw. The second study investigated whether the presence of a child’s drawing alongside their testimony influenced how the child witness was perceived. Within this study, potential jurors (N=502) read a simulated transcript of a child reporting a traffic incident and rated the child witness’ credibility. Within each transcript, the child’s age (6 or 10- years-old) and the drawing they presented (no drawing, low-quality drawing, or high-quality drawing) were manipulated. All findings indicated that the child’s age and the presence of a drawing had no significant influence on child credibility ratings. Collectively, these studies suggest that although jurors hold strong beliefs about the meaning within children’s drawings, these beliefs may not always influence jurors’ evaluation of a child witness. However, further research is required to comprehensively understand the conditions in which drawings may be a highly compelling and influential form of evidence.