Can you imagine spending two years in jail awaiting trial for a crime you did not commit? Can you imagine being accused of violently shaking your toddler or deliberately causing Abusive Head Trauma (AHT) by creating impact with a hard surface? In a North Charleston South Carolina Case, Eugene Anthony Wright sat in jail for over two years awaiting trial in an AHT case. He not only lost his daughter to trauma, he lost his freedom for two years, after which he was set out on bond. Seven months later his charges were dismissed and someone else was indicted for a child abuse related death. Although details of this case are slim, one thing is clear: The State got it wrong and a grieving father was falsely accused of homicide.
False Allegations of Child Abuse
Defense attorneys around the country are shaking their heads and asking how the state can be so wrong. To a parent, the death of a child is unbelievably unbearable. Being accused of harming or killing your child is devastating in a way that cannot be overstated. Law enforcement officials, CPS investigators and the doctors who rush to an AHT diagnosis and then accuse parents have a moral and ethical obligation to get it right. In their zeal to prosecute people for child abuse, doctors and public officials level false allegations against far to many innocent parents and day care providers. This causes incredible harm to families, lives and careers.
Is Shaken Baby Syndrome Real?
Of course an angry adult can hurt a child through deliberate forceful action. This is especially true when the child’s head impacts a hard surface. However, the controversy comes when doctors stray from known science and are willing to bring scientifically unsupportable opinions into the courtroom. Forensic doctors, such as Child Abuse Pediatricians, are often willing to come to court and state their theories as if they were facts. Once those opinions are formed, they are presented in court as if they were scientific certainties.
When Doctors get it Wrong
I have seen cases where doctors, police, CPS investigators and prosecutors communicated freely, and medical opinions seemed to adjust based on the needs of the prosecution. This is not only bad medicine; it is devastating for families and caretakers.
Common Mistakes made by CPS Doctors:
There is a form of tunnel vision that often guides the opinions of Child Abuse Pediatricians. Here are some things that I see frequently:
- Retinal Hemorrhages. There is a growing amount of medical literature, much of which is advanced by Alex Levin, M.D. that is used to prosecute cases where children have bleeding in the eye. Dr. Levin produces more literature in support of his opinions than most. And that literature is used by many to form opinions regarding possible abuse on this single medical finding. The problem is that there are numerous non-abusive causes of retinal hemorrhages.
- Timing of Injuries. Police and CPS investigators rely heavily on medical opinions as to when an injury occurred. Often, the investigation is not more extensive than figuring out what adult was in charge during which days and hours. The adult believed to be present when the injury is believed to have occurred usually gets prosecuted. The problem is that much of the timing information is not supported by known science and amounts to educated guesswork.
- Timing Based on the Onset of Symptoms. Doctors often testify that a child with a severe injury will become symptomatic immediately. This is simply not the case and there is little or no science to support it. Of course, it could be that a child is injured and is instantly symptomatic, but it does not always happen that way.
- Timing of Healing of Infant Fractures. In child abuse cases, we are often trying to determine the age of an injury by examining the healing of a fracture and determining how long it takes to get that amount of healing. There is no scientific basis for making this assessment in young children.
- Timing based on the Color and Appearance of Bruises. Many have tried, but all have failed, to develop a scientifically reliable way of dating or timing injuries based on the color phases of bruises. It is not accurate and no doctor should rely on such an assessment for testimony.
- Pre-Existing Medical Conditions. Child Protection doctors have a specific way of dealing with pre-existing medical conditions which pre-dispose a child to injury: ignore them. The reality is that many children have injuries or medical conditions that pre-dispose them to have an “abuse-like” presentation in the emergency room. For example, we know that there are a large number of children born during normal deliveries who have undetected subdural bleeding. This condition can exist for many months, with the child bleeding and re-bleeding inside of the head without symptoms. It may heal and resolve, or it may suddenly lead to seizures or other symptoms. When this happens, caretakers are likely to be accused of child abuse and the doctors will simply ignore the evidence of an ongoing injury.
Parents Deserve the Best Defense Possible
We don’t know what errors led to Mr. Wright being jailed for two years. We do know that a police officer swore under oath in an affidavit that Mr. Wright angrily held his daughter over his head and slammed her to the hard kitchen floor, only to find out that he was actually innocent. We do know that every time a parent is accused of child abuse, their lives are permanently altered. That is why Cronkright Law is dedicated to helping parents falsely accused of child abuse and neglect. Can we be of service to your family?