Preserving Video-Recorded Child Sexual Abuse Investigative Interviews

By Pollack, Daniel | Policy & Practice, June 2017 | Go to article overview

Preserving Video-Recorded Child Sexual Abuse Investigative Interviews


Pollack, Daniel, Policy & Practice


Every video-recorded child sexual abuse investigative interview is unique and cannot be replaced if the recording is lost, damaged, or destroyed. Arguing that the failure to properly preserve video evidence was not done in bad faith may not pass legal muster. Pursuant to the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment, "criminal prosecutions must comport with prevailing notions of fundamental fairness" California v. Trombetta, 467 U.S. 479, 485 (1984). Simply put, if a video has not been properly preserved it may cause problems with due process later.

In many states, by law, video recording child sexual abuse investigative interviews must be preserved as evidence. For instance, the Iowa Code § 232.71B (2015) [Duties of the department upon receipt of report] provides "...19 Rules. The department shall adopt rules regarding the intake process, assessment process, assessment reports, contact with juvenile court or the county attorney, involvement with law enforcement, case record retention, and dissemination of records for both child abuse assessments and family assessments."

Similarly, South Carolina Code Ann. § 17-23-175 (2013) [Admissibility of out-of-court statement of child under twelve; determination of trustworthiness; notice to adverse party], subsection (A)(2) states: "an audio and visual recording of the statement is preserved on film, videotape, or other electronic means, except as provided in subsection (F)." Subsection (F) states: "Out-of-court statements made by a child in response to questioning during an investigative interview that is visually and auditorily recorded will always be given preference. If, however, an electronically unrecorded statement is made to a professional in his professional capacity by a child victim or witness regarding an act of sexual assault or physical abuse, the court may consider the statement in a hearing outside the presence of the jury to determine:

(1) the necessary visual and audio recording equipment was unavailable;

(2) the circumstances surrounding the making of the statement;

(3) the relationship of the professional and the child; and

(4) if the statement possesses particularized guarantees of trustworthiness."

Our surveillance society and digital environment have changed everything. Never before have we been able to record and store such vast amounts of information. The storage, maintenance, and retrieval of video-recorded interviews are crucial to ongoing child maltreatment investigations and for use in future legal forums. If they are not properly preserved, there is a risk that constitutional rights and obligations a desk or on your phone right before a home visit. Software that applies new findings in neuroscience and knowledge of how people heal and develop is vital. …

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