Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Court Reviews Test for Competency of a Child to Testify

Sometimes a decision in another area of the law can prove useful in civil litigation matters.

In the case of MA v. JH, No. FC-20-20486 (C.P. Lyc. Co. Sept. 9, 2020 Tira, J.), the court addressed the competency of a child to testify in a hearing pertaining to a Protection from Abuse proceeding. 

In the end, the court found that the child was incompetent to testify due to a lack of maturity. As such, the child’s hearsay statements were also found to be inadmissible at the proceeding. 

According to the Opinion, the child was 4 ½ years of age. 

In this matter, the mother filed a Petition for Protection from Abuse. Prior to the scheduled hearing, the mother requested a tender years hearing pursuant to 42 Pa. C.S.A. §5985.1. 

This decision is notable for its reference to the test to determine the competency of a child under 14 years of age to testify. The court noted that this test was set forth in the case of Roche v. McCoy, 156 A.2d 307 (Pa. 1959). 

Under the Roche decision, it was noted that competency was the rule and incompetency was considered to be the exception. That court also ruled that, when the child is under the age of 14, a judicial inquiry into the child’s mental capacity was mandatory. The factors for the court to consider with respect to the child under the age of 14 included the child’s mental capacity, ability to communicate, and consciousness of the duty to speak the truth. 

After interviewing the child in this case, the court found that the child was not mature enough to testify. The court also ruled that the hearsay statements of the child could not come into evidence as well. 

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (Oct. 27, 2020).

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