Complex Questions Asked by Defense Lawyers But Not Prosecutors Predicts Convictions in Child Abuse Trials

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Attorneys' language has been found to influence the accuracy of a child's testimony, with defense attorneys asking more complex questions than the prosecution (Zajac & Hayne, J. Exp Psychol Appl 9:187–195, 2003; Zajac et al. Psychiatr Psychol Law, 10:199–209, 2003). These complex questions may be used as a strategy to influence the jury's perceived accuracy of child witnesses. However, we currently do not know whether the complexity of attorney's questions predict the trial outcome. The present study assesses whether the complexity of questions is related to the trial outcome in 46 child sexual abuse court transcripts using an automated linguistic analysis. Based on the complexity of defense attorney's questions, the trial verdict was accurately predicted 82.6% of the time. Contrary to our prediction, more complex questions asked by the defense were associated with convictions, not acquittals.

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