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Lively Testifies before the SC Committee on Children About Child Forensic Interview Recording Protections

October 15, 2022

The South Carolina Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers General Counsel, Candice Lively, testified before the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children during the committee’s fall hearing in Columbia on October 12, 2022. Lively spoke with the committee about forensic interviews of children and how the SCNCAC Forensic Interview Recording Evidence Management system protects these recordings and meets rules of discovery for court proceedings in child abuse cases.

The Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children is a consortium of appointed citizens, legislators, and agency directors charged with the critical responsibility of identifying and studying key issues facing South Carolina’s children, then promoting sound strategies for the development of children’s policy. The Committee makes recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly to use in consideration of policy, funding, and legislation to benefit our children’s future.

Summary of Candice Lively’s Testimony

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee, I am Candice Lively, General Counsel for the S.C. Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers and a Deputy Solicitor with the Sixth Judicial Circuit.

I’ve worked in the field of prosecution of child abuse cases – sexual abuse – as well as in the education of best practices surrounding the use of CACs in the response to child abuse investigations. Executive Director Tom Knapp testified in Florence about the services provided at Children’s Advocacy Center’s (CACs) and the referral of abused children to these facilities for recorded interviews by trained professionals. These recorded interviews are evidence in a case. They are also detailed accounts of often graphic accounts of child physical and/or sexual abuse, exposure to domestic violence and drugs. The interview is recorded to allow for one comprehensive interview of that child without multiple interviews resulting in continued trauma for that child. Also, that interview is now the evidence in the case – accessible to the State and Defense pursuant to rules of criminal procedure Rule 5 and Brady Rules of discovery.

There have been numerous instances across the country where FI recordings have been released and caused further harm to child victims and their families. Interviews appeared on social media and have been released to offenders and others who should not have access. We have laws to protect the names of rape victims, we have laws that will not allow the release of a minor’s name if he/she is accused of a crime – we have no laws that protect the identity and details of abuse disclosed by a child in confidence to a trained interviewer in a place that is supposed to create a child friendly environment – to prevent further trauma. It is a terrible betrayal to a child who opens up and freely shares a traumatic abusive event to then have that recording be shared without restriction to anyone. These interviews need to be released to law enforcement, Department of Social Services (DSS), solicitors, and defense attorneys involved in the case. However, this should happen in a secure manner. Up until recently, a DVD was provided to these parties however, this is not secure and can be lost or misplaced. In an attempt to protect the distribution of a copy on a DVD, the CACs would require a Protective Order signed by a judge to protect the confidentiality of the minor child and to ensure that the DVD wasn’t duplicated or distributed outside the scope of the Protective Order language. This was at times a slow and cumbersome process and the possibility of lost disks was still a concern. Also, some CACs were ruled into court Motions to Compel for a release of the DVD without the requested Protective Order.

The SC Network of Children’s Advocacy Center’s resolved these matters without seeking legislation to address these concerns. It has worked diligently with each CAC in the state to install a statewide forensic interview recording evidence management system that protects these interviews. The process is as follows:

The child is referred to a CAC for a forensic interview that is recorded. This recorded interview remains in the database in perpetuity. If it is a DSS case, the DSS attorney receives an email with a digital link for access to the forensic interview on his/her computer. This link remains active for as long as the case is pending. The process is the same for a Solicitor. Then once the accused is represented by an attorney, the DSS attorney and/or Solicitor notifies the CAC to provide a digital link to the interview on behalf of the Defense attorney. This complies with the Rules of Discovery, Brady v. Maryland, Criminal Rule 5 etc. The Defense attorney has exactly the same access as a DSS/Solicitor. And most importantly the minor child is protected from the trauma of the interview being forever exposed on the internet.

We are working with statewide partners and judges to educate them about why this system is more secure and meets rules of disclosure before seeking a legislative solution. We will come back next year and let you know if that education has been successful.