In 1994, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that, if the defendant could provide ‘some proof’ that a child witness’s testimony had been screwed with by the adults in charge, then they were entitled to a taint hearing to review the interviews.
What taints a child’s testimony? Coercive interviewing techniques such as…
Suggestion (Did this happen to you? How about this?)
Reward (encouraging a child to continue; smiling when they make an accusation.)
The question in these hearings is about reliability, not credibility. It’s about whether the child has been told, with words or non-verbal cues, what to say. The reason they allow the hearings is because it is well-documented that after being subjected to coercive or suggestive interviewing techniques, a child may truly believe she’s telling the truth, even if she was only repeating what the interviewer implanted in her mind.
Sounds crazy? The court didn’t think so, when they came to the landmark Michaels decision.
Among the varying perspectives, however, the Appellate Division found a consistent and recurrent concern over the capacity of the interviewer and the interview process to distort a child's recollection through unduly slanted interrogation techniques. The Appellate Division concluded that certain interview practices are sufficiently coercive or suggestive to alter irremediably the perceptions of the child victims.
The kids in the Michaels case were not intentionally lying; a story was cultivated in their minds, fleshed-out by ‘helpful’ adults, and by the time they got to court they truly believed they had experienced it. If you’re asking if a taint hearing could help SPM, probably not. The time to ask for one is pre-trial, and Texas, as far as I can tell, has never granted one.
But think about this; at least one court in this country has acknowledged that a child can be led to make an accusation, come up with believable details, honestly testify about it in court, and it doesn’t take a malicious intention to do it. All it takes is one person who truly believes the child was harmed, who either doesn’t know how to conduct an interview, or who just doesn’t give a fuck what it takes to get the kid to talk.
So we arrive once again at that unrecorded first interview, with Officer Heidi Ruiz. We know from Coy’s Habeas Corpus that Jane Doe’s mother had already given a crime report to Officer David Milligan; why Ruiz had them bring Jane Doe come in to speak with her, instead of just sending them straight to the C.A.C. is a mystery.
Was she capable of performing an unbiased interview? A write-up from the Bravo award she received sometime in the recent past:
“she is [a] relentless tigress when purs[u]ing facts to build strong cases against suspects.”
As Tony says, Grrrrrrrrrreat! How relentless is she? Will she go so far as to assist a child in ‘remembering’ facts? Will she encourage this child’s parents to do the same? Will she suggest things that might have happened, then reward the child with a hug when one is chosen? While investigating Coy's case, she apparently pursued one individual all the way to San Antonio to elicit an accusation:
Asis Award Write-up:
Officer Ruiz showed a relentless pursuit of the facts and discovered seven additional victims. One victim in San Antonio, who failed to disclose any sexual abuse after being interviewed by the District Attorney’s Office, revealed details of the offense to Officer Ruiz.
Again, that word ‘relentless’ pops up. What’s it mean? Showing or promising no abatement of severity, intensity, strength, or pace.
Does that sound like the type of person you want conducting a sensitive first interview, hidden from the world because of malfunctioning video equipment?
Her interviewing techniques were called into question during another child molestation case, Penaflor vs. Texas. In this case there was DNA evidence, but the man convicted of the crime had an identical twin brother. Who was guilty? Apparently whichever one could be twisted into a confession:
Specifically, appellant argues that (1) Ruiz engaged in a "campaign of promises to help" by telling appellant she was there to help him, and, if appellant was willing to tell her the truth about what happened, she would tell the judge appellant was truthful; (2) Ruiz told appellant he needed to confess in order to protect himself; (3) Ruiz induced appellant to confess by offering to get him psychiatric counseling; and (4) Ruiz and Yanez told appellant he could avoid a life sentence by confessing.
I could go on, but fuck it. The point is, the Houston PD turned their ‘Relentless Tigress’ loose in a room with a kid who was already experiencing photophobia, phonophobia, severe headaches and possible hallucinations. This little girl had been stuffed full of the same medication they use for adults that suffer from PTSD, which at the time had not been tested in children younger than twelve.
Jesus. But hey, there’s no reason for a taint hearing or any kind of oversight! We accept Officer Ruiz’s testimony about what happened at that interview as God’s own truth!