How Hennepin County Attorney's Office staff work with witnesses
While our office cannot comment on specifics from the State vs. Chauvin trial, what we can do is provide a general overview as to how victim witness staff from our office work with witnesses.
Questions have arisen regarding younger witnesses, and how our office supports and prepares them for a court proceeding. For children under 12 years of age, those witnesses receive a child abuse advocate as opposed to a case management assistant. Any witness over the age of 12 is assigned to a victim witness advocate, or a request for a child abuse advocate can be made.
Pre-pandemic, victim witness staff would commonly make home visits to introduce themselves to the child and their care providers. Child witnesses were also introduced to the prosecutor(s) at the office, were shown the courtroom where they would testify prior to trial, and received a tour of the facility.
Regarding trial preparations, this generally occurs after the child witness, their care givers, and a victim witness advocate have met a few times to build a rapport. This relationship over time creates comfort and support the child can rely on during court proceedings. Advocates will also suggest the child bring something that soothes them, like a stuffed animal, or will offer worry stones or fidgets to make the child more at ease. During a trial, advocates will remain in the courtroom as support for the child.
Another important aspect is how the advocates guide the child witness through the process, offering helpful suggestions and support during each stage of the court proceeding. The goal is always relationship building between the advocate and child witness, to ensure they feel safe and respected throughout the trial.
During the pandemic, many of the in-person meetings were scheduled through remote video meetings with the child witness, their care givers, and the advocate(s). This process mimicked pre-COVID 19 conditions, and afforded each party to interact with one another, and create a relationship built on trust and understanding.
As for witnesses 18 years or older, they receive similar support, in addition to victim witness advocates finding resources like therapeutic support, keeping them updated on court proceedings, offering opportunities to confer with the prosecutor(s), and giving feedback on the case.
To further support witnesses during court proceedings, our office employed an emotional support animal named Barrett who joined in December 2019. Since then, Barrett has been an integral part in offering stress and anxiety-relief to those who appear in court.
Additional information on our victim witness division can be found here.